The Truth About Cancer and Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners — also commonly known as synthetic sugar substitutes — are chemicals that food and beverage manufacturers add to their products in order to achieve a sweet taste. Packets of artificial sweeteners, which people can use to sweeten their coffees, teas, and baked goods at home, are also available in grocery stores.
Sometimes, people refer to these additives as "intense sweeteners." They achieve a taste similar to regular table sugar, although artificial sweeteners tend to be a lot sweeter.
What are the types of artificial sweeteners?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these sugar substitutes are allowed for use in the United States of America and/or European Union:
Acesulfame potassium. Similar to aspartame, acesulfame potassium is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Manufacturers sell it under the brand names Sweet One and Sunnet.
Advantame. Surprisingly, this synthetic sugar substitute is 20,000 times sweeter — yes, you read that right — in comparison to actual sugar. It is best used for baking or cooking.
Aspartame. Compared to table sugar, this additive is 200 times sweeter. Manufacturers sell it under the brand names Equal, NutraSweet, and Sugar Twin. This sweetener is what Coca-Cola uses in their sugar-free soda called Zero.
Aspartame-acesulfame salt. Don't let the word "salt" fool you. This additive is 350 times sweeter than table sugar, and it is often sold under the brand name Twinsweet.
Neotame. This synthetic sweetener is 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Like Advantame, most use it for cooking and baking. Makers sell it under the brand name Newtame.
Sacchari. Sold under popular brand names like Sweet'N Low, Necta Sweet, and Sweet Twin, saccharin is approximately 700 times sweeter than regular table sugar.
Sodium cyclamate. Compared to the others on this list, sodium cyclamate is less potent, although it is still 50 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Initially incorporated into cooking and baking recipes, the United States banned cyclamate in 1970. The European Union, however, considers it as safe.
Sucralose. Being 600 times more sweet than table sugar, most people use sucralose in cooking and baking. Manufacturers sell it under the popular brand name Splenda.
Is there a link between cancer and artificial sweeteners?
Now that you know about the most common artificial sweeteners available, it is time to discuss the correlation between synthetic sugars and cancer.
Debates about this health concern began in the 1970s when a study found an increased risk of bladder cancer in rats that were fed sodium cyclamate and saccharin daily for two years. Out of the 50 test subjects, only eight male rats and nine female rats survived.
In hindsight, it is important to know that rats metabolize saccharin and some synthetic sugars differently than people. Since then, multiple clinical studies on humans have revealed no link between artificial sweeteners and cancer (1, 2, 3, 4).
Furthermore, regulatory authorities in the United States and European Union conducted further evaluations about this ongoing debate, and both great powers agreed that artificial sweeteners or synthetic sugar substitutes do not increase the risk of developing cancer when consumed in recommended amounts.
However, cyclamate has a different narrative. As mentioned, the United States outlawed the use of sodium cyclamate in the country after the medical study about bladder cancer developing in rats was published in 1970. Even though subsequent studies in animals failed to show a cancer connection, the United States has not reapproved the use of cyclamate.
The likelihood of cancer occurring varies by individual and depends heavily on the specific type of synthetic sugar consumed. To avoid the potential dangers of artificial sweeteners, try natural sweeteners instead.