This article made headlines several weeks ago, which I’m certain caused many people to happily cheer and run to the closest convenience store to indulge their guilt ridden love for soda pop because ‘Hey’!-a bunch of men in white lab coats say it’s actually good for me!’ Interestingly, a new study conducted by Chinese scientists at Sun Yat-Sen University has yielded that citrus flavored Sprite is an ideal hangover remedy. View full article here.
But just like our incessant quest for the fountain of youth or the silver bullet supplement, is this just another ill-advised hype health trend? It’s difficult for me to embrace the concept of Sprite-a chemically constructed beverage derived from mixing carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, phosphorous acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate and natural flavors (zesty lime crystals & MSG mmm…)-not to mention aluminium can percolate-as a health elixir that helps facilitate the elimination of a toxic substance from the body. A great many health practitioners would probably have difficulty endorsing this supposition (unless they work for Coca Cola) since not a single one of the ingredients readily found in a can of Sprite is remotely natural, let alone healthy, and can in fact, be considered toxic themselves. It has always been interesting to me how most hangover cures consistently call for adding more toxins to an already toxic human body…
Perhaps the difference lies in that this study was carried out with the use of Chinese sprite, Xue Bi- I am not certain how Xue Bi differs from our sprite…perhaps it contains kelp?…, but I can assure you that the North American grade does not cut it as a healthful product, and certainly pales in its quality in comparison to let’s say herbal tea. To shed some clarity on soda pop as a toxin, let’s release our inner Bill Nye and examine the fine print; most sodas on the market today, including yours truly, Sprite, are fabricated from a simple synthesis of modified water, sugar, flavorings and preservatives.
Carbonated tap water: Water that has been acidified through the liquefaction of carbon dioxide, creating carbonic acid. As it stands carbonation of plain water is not technically deemed unhealthy (although ‘acidifying’ anything should be cause for some worry) but the use of tap water however, is another story. Today’s bottled water marketing machine has grossly sidetracked us from the substantial body of scientific evidence that establishes tap water as a hefty source of noxious contaminants. Heavy metals like aluminum, arsenic, lead, mercury and copper, pesticides, chlorination by-products, pharmaceuticals, chemical fluoride, nitrates and phosphates, to name a few, have all been discovered in drinking water ranging from flat across Canada to the south end of the United States. Many of these toxins exist in amounts that exceed maximum allowable capacities upheld by public health authorities, and which are linked to a series of chronic health problems that include, but are not limited to, reproductive problems and birth defects, Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) or Sucrose: Our cells DO rely on sugar for energy, but please, not all sugars are created equal!! Our bodies use glucose (known as our ‘blood sugar’) as its main energy source which we glean from carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, grains* and legumes. Our bodies are manufactured to metabolize and respond to this form of glucose – it is readily broken down in our digestive tract and converted to useable energy by every one of our cells!
*recent studies have raised concerns over grain consumption and its benefit to the human body.
HFCS and sucrose (ie. white/brown sugar, maple syrup, honey) however, are comprised of both glucose and fructose molecules and are more complex to break down and use. Unlike glucose, the metabolism of fructose falls directly on the liver, our major organ of elimination. There it gets converted into fat (ie. triglycerides, cholesterol), a process known as lipogenesis. Converted fats should essentially get burned up quickly by the body, however with excessive fructose intake, such as the case with a diet rich in processed foods, the body cannot keep up, and the result is fat storage (aka weight gain), damaged organs, like fatty liver, and accumulated toxins.
High chemical sources of fructose such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) not only facilitate fat build up, but are openly red flagged by medical and scientific professionals for their serious links to illnesses relating to metabolic disturbances (obesity, appetite increase), brain function impairment (dementia, Alzheimer’s, brain fog), intestinal injury (intestinal wall erosion, inflammation) and pancreatic damage (insulin over-production & resistance, diabetes). HFCS owes its peril to its method of production which takes regular corn syrup (corn starch processed with water, enzymes & fungus) and modifies its chemical structure from entirely glucose to an irregular ratio of fructose and glucose. This modification makes it sweeter, and in the body triggers extreme insulin spikes as it bypasses the digestive tract and barrels into the bloodstream sucking additional phosphorous minerals from the body’s vital energy storehouse with it. The pancreas is sent into over-drive and the liver and kidneys suffer increased stress as the body struggles to metabolize the alien sugar molecules. At the same time, HFCS is an essentially unregulated product and nearly all (I would personally say ALL) sources of it today are derived from genetically modified corn, contain traces of heavy metals like arsenic, and are found in nutritionally void foods filled with other disease promoting compounds and chemicals. HFCS is an artificial sweetener, easy to get, cheap to make (half the price of sugar) and comes from a very abundant and prized national food source; corn! Keeping farmers in business, industry in affluence and citizens in lineups for medical and pharmaceutical care are just a few of the perky spin-offs behind HFCS food politics!
Phosphoric Acid: Readily used as an acidifying flavour additive in Coca Cola, phosphoric acid or compound E338, is a mass produced corrosive chemical. Not to be mistaken for naturally occurring phosphorous found in meat and dairy. E338 is a fierce chemical agent, spawned from treating phosphate rock with sulphuric acid, and is what is used to add that tarty je-ne-sais-quoi flavour to cola. It also helps prevent rapid growth of mold and bacteria in liquids. Fascinating right? But even more fascinating however, is what else this product is fashioned for; commercial agricultural fertilizers, detergents, insecticides, cleaners, rust removers, and cattle feed additive (Filet Mignon anyone?). Millions of tons of phosphoric acid are produced every year with the primary intention of completely unnatural material applications. In the body, phosphoric acid reeks havoc on the skeletal system, as it serves as a bone dissolvent. In this regard it is caustic to teeth, eroding enamel, and can be a causal effect of chronic kidney disease and kidney stone formation.
Sodium Benzoate: Sodium benzoate is a widely used sodium preservative derived from benzoic acid-a colourless solid processed from tree resin. Although benzoic acid is essentially a natural product, sodium benzoate is cooked up in a laboratory and in the human body, acts as a carcinogen by depriving cells of oxygen, affecting cell growth, and altering immune function and DNA. It gets metabolized in the liver, which means that it contributes to the organ’s stress of eliminating toxins from the body. No wonder it has been tied to debilitating conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s (and other neuro-degenerative diseases) and liver cirrhosis. More frightening is that when sodium benzoate gets combined with vitamins C or E, the poisonous compound Benzene gets formed, which is a scientifically recognized carcinogen readily used in the production of gasoline and ethylbenzene (used in plastics and varnishes). FYI-be very careful when purchasing store bought juices as they can contain fortified Vit C! Sodium benzoate has more recently made headlines as several investigations were launched in 2007-2008 to determine the safety of benzene in popular soft drinks. There is currently a big movement in Europe and the US to remove this preservative altogether from beverages.
Food colourings & flavourings: All soft drinks contain artificial colourings and flavourings to enhance their taste and appearance. Industry yellow no 5, or Tartrazine, for instance adds that yellowish hue to Mountain Dew and energy drinks. Caramel coulouring E150 (a,b,c,d) is the main colour additive in Coca Cola or Pepsi. Without dyes, most processed beverages would be unappealingly grey or colourless. Of course, these dyes are often derivatives of coal or tar, and are very toxic for you! Yellow no 5 is linked to anxiety, migraines, depression, skin ailments, blurred vision, sleep disturbance and hyperactivity in children (British Food Standards Agency study in 2007). Caramel colouring can contain the chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), which has been classified as a serious carcinogen. In response, the state of California has recently passed a law that all drinks that pose a risk of cancer be labelled as such.
Citrus sprite uses lemon-lime flavouring which is listed as a ‘natural’ ingredient because it is initially derived from a either a real lemon or a lime (usually the peel). However the final aromatic flavour that winds up in your can has been chemically synthesized into a syrup or a powder that may contain artificial additives. It is very difficult to get a handle on the exact methodology or ingredients of flavour additives as by law, food and beverage companies are protected by government discretion and non-disclosure labelling agreements, which in and of itself should be a warning sign!
The Sprite study is linear in that it offers little elaboration as to what occurs in the body when we experience the dreaded ‘hangover’ symptoms. Because that’s exactly what a hangover is, a symptom, of your liver detoxifying your blood from the effects of ethanol (aka the crantini you ingested pre tequila shots last night). For most of us, how the body eliminates alcohol is a far away and cloudy notion, running second to what we are all very familiar with, and professionally versed in: the pounding head, nausea and overall deathly feeling of the modern day hangover! To get a clearer picture of the real players behind the scenes of ‘The Hangover- the original ’ (ahh what wit!), take a quick peek at Britt’s video on the effects of alcohol in the body: