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Do Artificial Sweeteners Actually Cause Cancer?

Everyone has heard at one time or another that “artificial sweeteners cause cancer”. I often hear it from people while I’m sipping Diet-Coke or sweetening my coffee with some Splenda. However, just how valid is this statement? Especially considering the dramatization of every tidbit of news that reaches the public and the multiple contradictory studies on the subject.

In an article entitled “Artificial Sweeteners and the Risk of Gastric, Pancreatic, and Endometrial Cancers in Italy”, Italian researchers claimed that they performed a study that “adds further evidence on the absence of [a negative] effect of low-calorie sweetener.” From another study, “Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer Risk in a Network of Case–Control Studies,” researchers concluded that there is a lack of association between saccharin, aspartame and other sweeteners and the risk of several common neoplasms,” or tumors. Yet another study, “Life-Span Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning during Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats,” finds a connection between artificial sweeteners and cancer. The study claims to have “reinforce[d] the first experimental demonstration of… carcinogenicity at a dose level close to the acceptable daily intake for humans.”

Why the contradiction? For starters, let us look at the test subjects: rats. In the 1970s, saccharin containing products were legally mandated to carry a warning label based on a study done on rats. These findings were later reversed because it was found that the chemical effects being viewed by the researchers were specific to male rats, not humans. Oddly enough, the first two studies mentioned in this article were on humans and concluded that there was no correlation between cancer and artificial sweeteners, and the third study that found a connection, as stated in its title, was performed on rats.

Second, let’s look at the doses being given to these test subjects. A test from the 1980s said that aspartame, another artificial sweetener, caused cancer; however, what was initially not known by the public was that some of the doses given to the rats were equivalent to a human drinking up to 2000 cans of diet soda a day. Excessive amounts of anything, even water or vitamins, can be detrimental to one’s health; therefore, these studies prove very little.

So the question remains: Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer? The answer, at least from my perspective, is maybe. If all the studies agreed, then I, along with many others, would be firmly convinced. However, every search I ran and every study I read had one that contradicted it, leading me a bit skeptical of the cancer-causing effects of artificial sweeteners. A can or two of Diet-Coke is probably not going to do you in. Nonetheless, too much of anything can be harmful, and carcinogenic or not I’d recommend keeping your daily dosages of artificial sweeteners within reason.

You can access the studies yourself here and here.

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