Outside in and inside out! A place to store ideas about education.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Aspartame emails: true or not?

I've just received and email regarding Aspartame as a sweet poison, which is basically similar to this:

so i responded to my yahoogroup with a small internet-research:

The Aspartame email has been alarming for me, alarming in two ways:

1. It might be true, and I'll have to both forward the email to all my friends, as well as it will be a pain to avoid all the aspartame-laced processed foods in the market, and
2. It might be a false claim, so I have to make sure to alert all those who have received the email, so that they will NOT forward it to all their friends.

Other replies to this email rightly asks where the information came from. The thing about these kinds of emails is that they start with a very personal account (... my sister this or that) and ends with something that is hidden public knowledge (I will explain why aspartame is so dangerous...). However, nowhere in the email explains who "I" am and who "my sister" is and who "her doctor in Florida" is. So we are left wondering: who are these people and why should I believe them?

So in the effort of being a critical consumer of internet information, I decided to google-investigate some of the information from these emails and pass the results of my investigation on to you:

1. There is actually a statement about this from the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH: saying that this is an internet hoax. It belabors the misinformation in internet hoaxes and the lack of accountability in spreading such emails. Furhtermore, it says that aspartame is safe. And I quote: "Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly tested substances in the U.S. food supply."

But then again, with the power of the internet in our hands, we can invesigate a little further and see if there really are researches on the health effects of aspartame consumption. So I go on to the NCBI (of the National Libraries of Medicine) to do a bit of library research. Here's what I found:

(sorry for the lousy formatting, as I'm copy-pasting)

2. It is bad for some aspartame-sensitive people with mood disorders.
Adverse reactions to aspartame: double-blind challenge in patients from a vulnerable population.
Walton RG, Hudak R, Green-Waite RJ.

3. "It appears that some people are particularly susceptible to headaches caused by aspartame and may want to limit their consumption." from, Aspartame ingestion and headaches: a randomized crossover trial.
Van den Eeden SK, Koepsell TD, Longstreth WT Jr, van Belle G, Daling JR, McKnight B$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed


4. "Upon ingestion, aspartame is broken, converted, and oxidized into formaldehyde in various tissues."

Dermatitis. 2008 May-Jun;19(3):E10-1.Click here to read Links
Formaldehyde, aspartame, and migraines: a possible connection.
Jacob SE, Stechschulte S.

5. "scientists disagree about the relationships between sweeteners and lymphomas, leukemias, cancers of the bladder and brain, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and systemic lupus. Recently these substances have received increased attention due to their effects on glucose regulation."

AAOHN J. 2008 Jun;56(6):251-9; quiz 260-1.Links
The potential toxicity of artificial sweeteners.
Whitehouse CR, Boullata J, McCauley LA.

6. For rats under laboratory conditions, "The results of this mega-experiment indicate that APM (aspartame), in the tested experimental conditions, is a multipotential carcinogenic agent."

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Sep;1076:559-77.Click here to read Links
Results of long-term carcinogenicity bioassay on Sprague-Dawley rats exposed to aspartame administered in feed.
Belpoggi F, Soffritti M, Padovani M, Degli Esposti D, Lauriola M, Minardi F.

7. This was then contested by this other study, claiming that "CONCLUSIONS Under the conditions of this 9-month feed study, there was no evidence of carcinogenic activity of aspartame in male or female p53 haploinsufficient mice exposed to 3,125, 6,250, 12,500, 25,000, or 50,000 ppm."

Natl Toxicol Program Genet Modif Model Rep. 2005 Oct;(1):1-222.
NTP report on the toxicology studies of aspartame (CAS No. 22839-47-0) in genetically modified (FVB Tg.AC hemizygous) and B6.129-Cdkn2atm1Rdp (N2) deficient mice and carcinogenicity studies of aspartame in genetically modified [B6.129-Trp53tm1Brd (N5) haploinsufficient] mice (feed studies).
National Toxicology Program.

8. There are several papers/letters on these effects of aspartame, however they don't have abstracts so I have no idea what is in them. All pretty recent research, too. YOu can look them up at the NCBI website (under PubMed):

South Med J. 2007 May;100(5):543.Click here to read Links
Aspartame-induced thrombocytopenia.
South Med J. 2008 Sep;101(9):969.Click here to read Links

Comment on:
South Med J. 2008 Feb;101(2):166-73.

Overlooked aspartame-induced hypertension

Carcinogenicity of aspartame in rats not proven.
Magnuson B, Williams GM.

Finally, as my own personal conclusion:

There are more agencies attesting to the general safety of aspartame comsumption, however, there is still the raging scientific debate which surrounds this assertion. THis is actually a case of science in motion, when scientists come up with data that either supports of disproves some claims. I suppose in the coming years, they will come up with morre conclusive evidence as to whether aspartame is harmful to health. until then...

Natural is best! Let's just stick to sugar, eh?

Gumamela Tea good for cardiovascular health

Are gumamela flowers nice to have in your garden? Apparently they're good to have for breakfast, too!

This is my first time to hear about a tea made from gumamela, but it appears that gumamela extract is used in many tea blends. It appears that extract from the hibiscus flower has a high amount of antioxidants, b-carotene, and BHA. It has been implicated in lowering cholesterol levels in the blood, and now in lowering blood pressure also. What else? It decreases the chances for artherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels) as it prevents oxidation of LDL-cholesterol in the blood. It is also a good diuretic and helps fight UTI. It is even good for the skin!

So, this is actually as good as red wine! I wonder how soon we Filipinos can dig into this :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

On an email re: Vitamin C and CVD.

The email actually came from this website that sells natural therapy regimens,

This email interests me much because of my work as a teacher of Biochemistry. Here's what I found out from a little internet research. I am wary as this email looks like it is selling something, so with my background I thought I'd do a little research before passing the email on to friends and associates.

I've looked at the references to this report. Taking large amounts (5-20 g/day) of Vitamin C is implicated in cancer treatments (Millimolar concentrations of extracellular vitamin C kill cancer cells but not normal cells, However, the Pauling/Rath papers are not definitive, that is, without more information, we can't really be sure. I have not seen further citations of the articles, and if you can see the dates of the research is way back 1990-1992, and that is 16 years ago. We have uncovered a lot more data since then, so I'm not sure how Pauling's arguments on cardiovascular health are received nowadays. The Linus Pauling Institute at OSU is doing studies on diet and health, and they've come up with a book about it in 2007, which should give a good update on how these researches are going.

An Evidence-Based Approach to Dietary Phytochemicals
by Jane Higdon, Ph.D.
This book provides a critical analysis of the current scientific, epidemiological, and clinical research on the health benefits of plant-based foods and dietary phytochemicals. Hardcover (2007) 238 pp.
Price: $59.95 Purchase Info

As of 2003, 1. Evidence is insufficient to determine if vitamins A, C, or E, multivitamins with folic acid, or antioxidant combinations reduce CVD risk. ( The main thing that delays these researches is that large scale, randomized trials that actually look into the amount of vitamins in the blood stream and not in the amount ingested by the patients.


Right now I'm researching pest control.

We have a nasty pest problem here at home. My dad says that our place has a particular allure for termites. Our neighborhood sits atop a bed of adobe (now that I've researched it, it doesn't appear to be adobe at all! maybe I should schedule a little visit to the NIGS), which my dad claims comes from a really fantastic volcanic eruption somewhere in Laguna Lake (?) that threw all sorts of rocks and magma hereabouts. Anyway, rumor has it that this particular rock (it is quite hard, which led campus architects to construct houses with large back yards, because cracking the rock under the soil was simply too expensive) exudes warmth, which, coupled with the natural humidity of our tropical rain forest-like climate, as well as years of housekeeping neglect, attracted and maintained a thriving colony of subterrainean termites in our home.

Now that's just outside our home. Inside is a labyrinth of books, manuscripts, magazines, and papers, given that my mom is a librarian and my dad is a novelist. Perfect termite food!

So anyway, the termites that we have are subterrainean kind and they cost the most damage in properties all over the world (except in dry or too cold climates). They make mud tunnels from the ground to their food source (in our case, window jambs and ceilings). They are very social animals (there is a term: eusocial) and communicate to each other frequently during their tunneling and burrowing. Taxonomically, they are closely related to wood-eating cockroaches (who knew?) and apparently had a major role in keeping the ecosystem, ranging for processing dry leaves (to prevent really bad forest fires from happening) and exuding insane amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) into the environment.

So what's a homeowner to do? i researched the ways by which my current (VERY BAD) household infestation can be treated, and I realized that I really had to go call the pest contrl people, even though I shudder at the price they may quote. The biology of the termite (being an eusocial organism, does this give them superpowers?) being quite tricky, I wouldn't want to unnescessarily make a bad infestation worse. (note: DonĂ¢'t touch or disturb the infested site to keep the termites from spreading to other areas.)

There are three ways to go about it, First, there is the Barrier method, where you practically drench your lot with highly toxic anti-termite (and actually, anti-everything else) solution which will deter the termites from going in. Problem with this method is that it does kill the termites going in, it traps the termites in your house from going out! So that's really a big negative, since my infestated house is not only on the outside but underneath, on it (windows and walls), and on top of it (ceiling), too.

Second there is the termite baiting system provided by the likes of Centricon. THey administer a termite bait using termite attrative-hormones (pheromones) a distance away from your home so that the termites all go there, being more attractive than your home. With the pheromone is a nasty you-can't-molt chemical, which is really environmentally friendly as it acts only on those pesky termites and not much else. SO birds that eat the termites don't get sick, water systems don't get poisoned, and you sleep better knowing that your house is safe from termites and your kids are safe from getting poisoned by pesticides. However this method is really darn expensive not to mention that it takes a while for colony eradication.

Now third there is the method used by Bayer called Agenda. It is a low-concentration toxin that is applied like a barrier but does not work like a barrier. Instead, termites pass through the pesticide barrier and get a good dose of it on its body. It then rubs up to other termites, giving these other termites a good dose of the pesticide. The second batch of termites rub off on a third batch, and so on, spready the love around. Within 3 months there is a drastic decrease in termite population. One should just pray to high heaven that the termites don't develop tolerance (immunity?) to the chemical.

I'm thinking a bit about the Sentricon method, because it is safer in the long run. However, the Agenda thing is also a good option because we really have a really big termite population and I'd like to do something about it and fast.

(this article was brought to you be Google and Wikipedia, and by a number of other pest control websites, particularly this site from the University of Texas).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Erythritol gets a 0 calorie nod

The US FDA powers that be have recently given a sugar substitute erythritol a nod as a 0 calorie ingredient. Erythritol is a 5-carbon sugar as compared to glucose which is a 6-carbon sugar and sucrose (table sugar) which is actually a combination of glucose and fructose, another 6-carbon sugar. The fun thing about erythritol is, aside from its sweetness, it has a rather cooling effect similar to mint. It is usually found in chewing gums, chocolates, and candies, and toothpaste.

The body cannot utilize erythritol for energy which is why it has zero calories. In rats, it is absorbed by the body and more than 90% is excreted in urine, while the rest is fermented by microorganisms in the intestines (Noda and Oku, 2007.

is this good news or bad news? Sources from the food industry say that for pastries and confectioneries, it may mean 30-60% less calories in foods which use erythritol, allowing food producers to add low-calorie claims to their products. What about for us consumers? Well, we can assume that erythritol will be making its way in grocery aisles soon, but I'm not sure what long term health effects can be.

For more info:

Monday, November 10, 2008

what i learned today about technological literacy

why not test for technological literacy?

technology has always been seen as a part of science.

second, technological literacy is quite difficult to measure using standardized multiple choice tests.

there are three dimensions to tech literacy, says NAS, first, there is some amount of basic knowledge about technology, second, some skills such as computer skills, fixing appliances in the home, and have ability to troubleshoot questions relying on aspects of a designed process, third, critical thinking about technological issues.

Friday, November 07, 2008

what I learned today (from my overstuffed yahoo address)

1. Black hose is hot. Or so says Missus Smarty Pants, the fashionista email I get every so often. Today's email contains advise on which hose to wear to which occassion (white is for little girls, and the sheerer the hose, the more formal the occassion) and exactly what shoes to wear with a navy dress (navy is a smart neutral and can take any color, such as black, taupe, beige, silver, or animal prints). Not that I have such ambitions for shoes and hose in my extensively (and almost exclusively) black wardrobe, but it never hurts to know these all-girl details, yes? Kinda reinforces my double-X status.
2. Chocolate rules! Chocolate consumption has been ruled to be good for the heart (of course it is!), and recent information have shown that pregnant women can actually safely consume caffeine in 4 bars (YUM) of chocolate!
3. The NAS has published a study (now sitting quietly on my desktop) about Master's degrees and community colleges which grant them (as well as for-profit colleges), which it laments has not been as closely watched as PhD-granting institutes, even though it is more necessary for industry as well as majority of post graduate students are enrolled in a master's degree program.
4. It's time for us to plan our Hajj lesson, since DhulHijjah is just around the corner.
Apparently I have no Obama feeds, so I am blissfully unaware of the US elections.

till tomorrow!