Sign up now for ease of access to The Medical Independent, Ireland’s most frequently published medical newspaper, delivering award-winning news and investigative reporting.

  • receive the eCopy two days prior to the printed edition.
  • can partake in our online MCQs.
  • can enter our online sports quiz.


Medicalindependent.ie is Ireland's only investigative medical news website for doctors, healthcare professionals and anyone with an interest in health issues.

Established in 2010, along with its sister publication The Medical Independent, our stated aim is to investigate and analyse the major issues affecting healthcare and the medical profession in Ireland. The Medical Independent has won a number of awards for its investigative journalism, and its stories are frequently picked up by national digital, broadcast and print media. The Medical Independent is published by GreenCross Publishing.

Address: Top Floor, 111 Rathmines Road Lr, Dublin 6

Tel: 353 (01) 441 0024

GreenCross Publishing is owned by Graham Cooke.

You are reading 1 of 2 free-access articles allowed for 30 days

The sweet spot

By Mindo - 02nd Mar 2018 | 41 views

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>T</span>he song <em>St Stephen’s Day Murders </em>(1991) by Paddy

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s2″>Moloney and Elvis Costello features the line: “There’ll </span>be laughter and tears over Tia Marias, mixed-up with that <span class=”s2″>drink made from girders.” That drink is Irn-Bru, an acri</span><span class=”s2″>dine, orange-coloured libation sometimes deployed as a mixer, </span>but more typically quaffed undiluted by alcohol, the better to <span class=”s2″>be savoured by discerning palates in Scotland and around the world, including Ireland.</span>

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s2″>Irn-Bru’s well-known association with girders derives from it having a 0.002 per cent concentration of the iron-contain- </span>ing food additive ammonium ferric citrate. But its main in- <span class=”s2″>gredient is sugar, 10.3g of which are added to every 100ml of </span>the stuff. Or rather, that was the case until the manufacturer AG Barr decided that as of January this year, they would reduce the sugar content from 10.3g to 4.7g/100ml. As com<span class=”s2″>pensation, the artificial sweetener aspartame was to be added.</span>

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s2″>This declaration unleashed a stushie of Wagnerian propor</span>tions. For example, an online petition on <span class=”s3″>www.change.org </span><span class=”s2″>launched by Ryan Allen has attracted over 50,000 signatories, all sharing Ryan’s outrage that this sweet golden thread woven </span>into Scotland’s cultural tapestry had been so cruelly slashed. <span class=”s2″>Accordingly, they demanded that the full complement of sugar be reinstated.</span>

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>AG Barr’s website (</span><span class=”s2″>www.irn-bru.co.uk</span><span class=”s1″>), prepared to shoul</span>der the burden of its responsibilities to consumers, counselled <span class=”s1″>Irn-Bru drinkers thus: “People with diabetes should be aware of the carbohydrate content change and should get medical advice.” It’s beyond parody, but I do love that wee touch of substi</span>tuting the more sciencey ‘carbohydrate’ for ‘sugar’.

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>I’m no medic, but if I were I’d advise people with diabetes — and without — to run a mile from all sugar-sweetened bev</span>erages (SSBs), pointing out that “chronic overconsumption of <span class=”s1″>SSBs is amongst the dietary factors most consistently found to be associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk in large epidemiological studies”. This is cited </span>by Arsenault et al (<em>Nutrients</em>, 2017, 9, 600) in their ‘Targeting over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages… ’

<p class=”p1″>As for the addition of aspartame, soft-drink manufacturers won’t have space on their websites to refer customers to a pa<span class=”s1″>per by Suez et al (<em>Nature</em>, 9 October 2014), whose title sums up </span><span class=”s3″>what happened when commercial formulations of saccharin, su- </span><span class=”s1″>cralose or aspartame were added to the drinking water of mice (none of whom had petitioned for the change): “Artificial sweet- </span><span class=”s3″>eners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.”</span>

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>The Scottish Diabetes Survey 2015 reported: “There were </span>284,122 people diagnosed with diabetes in Scotland recorded <span class=”s1″>on local diabetes registers at the end of 2015. This represents 5.3 per cent of the population.” And Diabetes Ireland (</span><em><span class=”s2″>www. diabetes.ie</span></em><span class=”s1″>) notes: “854,165 adults over 40 in the Republic of </span>Ireland are at increased risk of developing (or have) type 2 di- <span class=”s1″>abetes. More alarmingly, there are a further 304,382 in the 30-to-39-year age group that are overweight and not taking the weekly 150 minutes’ recommended physical activity, leav</span>ing them at an increased risk of chronic ill health.”

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>As Keaver et al observed in their ‘Energy drinks available in Ireland: A description of caffeine and sugar content’, published in <em>Public Health Nutrition </em>(doi:10.1017/S1368980017000362), </span>of 78 products identified, sugar concentration ranged from 2.9g <span class=”s1″>to 15.6g/100ml. Keaver et al’s other findings add to a burgeoning evidence base to show that SSBs are harmful to health. For a more recent example, when Loader et al investigated the ‘Effects of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption on microvascular and macrovascular function in a healthy population’ (<em>Ar- terioscler Thromb Vasc Biol</em>. 2017;37:1250-1260), they found </span>“that commercial SSB consumption induces microvascular and <span class=”s1″>macrovascular endothelial dysfunction in a healthy population”.</span>

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Yet the buffoonery of a petition calling for more sugar to be dumped into drinks at a time when obesity is rising and health services are creaking serves as a reminder that large swathes </span>

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>of the population in the UK ( and perhaps Ireland?) have abdi- cated responsibility for their health. And here a phrase of Gore </span>Vidal comes to mind: He was railing against the “Hacks of Ac- <span class=”s1″>ademe”, but it is appropriate here too, because we have today “the new barbarians, serenely restoring the Dark Ages”. We </span>are now living in the Dark Ages of the soul, where responsibil<span class=”s1″>ity for introspection, self-restraint, reflection, is handed over to others who will tell us what to think… and eat… and drink. The irony is that in the Dark Ages they ate better than we do </span>today: Proper meat, fish, dairy, vegetables; not the processed, ersatz stuff that can cause disease.

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>So it’s time for governments to govern, and to do for the </span>masses what many individuals are unable to accomplish them<span class=”s1″>selves: Take responsibility for our health. Raising taxes to out</span>law sugar would be a start.

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>However, Frances Perraudin in <em>The Guardian </em>(21 November </span><span class=”s2″>2016) notes that after the election of 56 Scottish Nationalist Par</span><span class=”s1″>ty (SNP) MPs to Westminster, there were 8,708 cans or bottles of Irn-Bru sold across the parliamentary estate: “Patrick Grady, the SNP MP for Glasgow North, said the carbonated drink gave </span><span class=”s2″>politicians ‘sustenance’ through the long days in the Commons.”</span>

<p class=”p1″>Perhaps we do get the politicians we deserve.

Leave a Reply

Latest
Latest Issue
The Medical Independent 19th May 2022

You need to be logged in to access this content. Please login or sign up using the links below.

Most Read