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Artificial Sweeteners: Are They Safe or Not

  • Date: 2014/10/15 (Rev. 2018/03/26)
  • Thomas C. Weiss - disabled-world.com
  • Synopsis : Information regarding the safety aspects of sugar substitutes, commonly known as artificial sweeteners, that are chemically processed.

Main Document

Artificial sweeteners are substances that are used instead of sugar or sugar alcohols. They might also be referred to as sugar substitutes, 'non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS),' or non-caloric sweeteners.

  • Sugar substitutes may help people trying to lose weight.
  • The sweeteners provide sweetness to drinks and foods without adding additional calories.
  • Using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar may also help to prevent dental decay and blood sugar control in those who experience diabetes.
  • Every artificial sweetener is chemically processed.
  • They may be added to food as well as during preparation. A person might also add them when they eat.

The majority of diet and low-calorie food products available for purchase are made using artificial sweeteners such as:

  • Stevia
  • Neotame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Aspartame
  • Monk Fruit
  • Cyclamates
  • Acesulfame K

Artificial Sweeteners and Side Effects

People often times have questions concerning the safety and health effects of artificial sweeteners.

The year 2012 found the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association publishing a report concluding that sensible use of non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) could help to lower carbohydrate and caloric intake. More research is needed. Enough evidence is also lacking at this point to determine if NNS use leads to weight loss or lowers a person's risk of heart disease.

Additional research is also needed regarding the safety of artificial sweeteners.

There is no clear evidence that the artificial sweeteners sold and used in America are linked to either cancer or coronary heart disease risk in people. Questions about artificial sweeteners and cancer came up when early studies showed that, 'cyclamate,' in combination with saccharin, caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals.

Results; however, from subsequent carcinogenicity studies, or studies that examine whether a particular substance might cause cancer, of artificial sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association with cancer in people. Similarly, studies of other FDA-approved sweeteners have not demonstrated clear evidence of an association with cancer in human beings.

Studies and Potential Associations between Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer

Are there studies that have shown a potential association between specific artificial sweeteners and cancer?

What have these studies shown?

As a person who has used artificial sweeteners like many people, the thought has occurred that it would be good to know. Studies have shown some answers in relation to sweeteners people use every day in America.

Saccharin and Laboratory Rats

Studies in laboratory rats during the 1970's linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer.

Due to the finding, Congress mandated that additional studies of saccharin be performed and required that all food containing saccharin bear a warning label stating: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

Subsequent studies in rats revealed an increased incidence of urinary bladder cancer at high doses of saccharin, particularly in male rats. Mechanistic studies or studies that examine how a substance works in the body; however, have shown that these results apply only to rats. Human epidemiology studies, which are studies of patterns, causes and control of diseases in groups of people, have shown no consistent evidence that saccharin is associated with bladder cancer incidence.

Due to the fact that bladder tumors seen in rats are because of a mechanism not relevant to people and because there is no clear evidence that saccharin causes cancer in people - saccharin was de-listed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program's Report on Carcinogens in the year 2000. Saccharin had been on the list since 1981 as a substance reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. The de-listing of saccharin led to legislation which was signed into law in the year 2000, repealing the warning label requirement for products containing the artificial sweetener.

Aspartame and Lab Testing

Aspartame is distributed under various trade names and was approved in the year 1981 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after a number of tests showed that it did not cause cancer or other negative effects in laboratory animals. Questions concerning the safety of aspartame were brought back up by a report in 1996 which suggested that an increased in the number of people with brain tumors between the years of 1975 and 1992 may be associated with the introduction and use of the artificial sweetener in America.

An analysis of then-current NCI statistics; however, showed that the overall incidence of brain and central nervous system cancers started to rise in the year 1973, 8 years before aspartame was approved - continuing to rise through the year 1985. Increases in overall brain cancer incidence happened mainly in people who were over the age of 70, a group that was not exposed to the highest dosages of aspartame since it was introduced. The data does not establish a clear link between the consumption of aspartame and the development of brain tumors in people.

In the year 2005, a laboratory study found more leukemias and lymphomas in rats fed very high doses of aspartame, equivalent to drinking 8-2,083 cans of diet soda each day. There were some inconsistencies in the findings from the study. For example; the number of cancer instances did not rise with increasing amounts of aspartame, as one might expect. Subsequently, NCI examined human data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study of over half a million people who were retired. Increased consumption of beverages containing aspartame was not associated with the development of leukemia, lymphoma, or brain cancer.

Sucralose, Acesulfame potassium and Neotame Studies

Along with saccharin and aspartame, 3 other artificial sweeteners are permitted for use in food products in America. These sweeteners include:

  • Sucralose: Sucralose was approved by the FDA as a sweetener for tabletop use in the year 1998. It was approved as a general purpose sweetener in 1999.
  • Neotame: Neotame is similar to aspartame and was approved by the FDA as a general purpose sweetener, with the exception of use in poultry and meat products, in the year 2002.
  • Acesulfame potassium: Also referred to as, 'ACK,' this sweetener was approved by the FDA in the year 1988 for use in specific food and drink categories. It was later approved as a general purpose sweetener in the year 2002, except in poultry and meat products.

Before approving these sweeteners, the FDA reviewed more than 100 safety studies that were conducted on each sweetener, to include studies to assess the risk of cancer. The results of these studies showed no evidence that these sweeteners cause cancer, or present any other threat to a person's health.

Cyclamate Studies

Due to the fact that the findings in rats suggested that cyclamate may increase the risk of bladder cancer in people, the FDA banned the use of cyclamate in the year 1969.

After re-examination of cyclamate's carcinogenicity and the evaluation of more information, scientists concluded that cyclamate was not a carcinogen or a, 'co-carcinogen,' which is a substance that enhances the effects of a cancer-causing substance. A food additive petition was filed with the FDA for the re-approval of cyclamate; the petition is being held in, 'abeyance,' which means it is not actively being considered.

Chemical Instead of Natural Sweeteners

One of the questions that come to mind where artificial sweeteners are concerned is their chemical makeup. Which is better from a health perspective; natural sweeteners, or artificial ones? For many people, the answer is a simple, 'If nature did not make it, it is not worth eating or drinking.' For others, the answer is not as simple.

Another question that may arise involves the source of funding for many of the studies performed in relation to artificial sweeteners and cancer. Where did the money to pay for these studies come from, corporations? A great amount of money was involved in these studies and it came from somewhere. The fact that someone or some corporation with a great interest in finding these sweeteners on the public market also crosses the mind.

While the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) name was once good enough to justify a product's worthiness on the open market, today the name holds perhaps less meaning for some. The question of whether everyone in America simply accepts FDA approval of a product as a kind of, 'gold standard,' anymore also arises.

Living in an America where questions arise such as these is perhaps enough reason for some people in America to continue to question the safety of artificial sweeteners. For others in this nation, regular sugar is enough of a reason to avoid sugary drinks and foods.

The research continues and while it does, individuals must make the decision regarding sweeteners on their own as best they are able.



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