Artificial Sweeteners Linked To Increased Cancer Risk In Large-Scale Study

Credits: Flickr/Steve Snodgrass

Following years of debate and confusion about artificial sweeteners’ potential detrimental health effects, a new large-scale study has indicated that eating these low-calorie food additives may raise the risk of cancer.

The latest study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that those who consume more sweeteners than average have a 13 percent higher risk of developing cancer, while some sugar replacements are more strongly linked to the condition than others.

Sweeteners are included in a vast variety of processed food items. These sweeteners are created to taste similar to sugar without having as many calories. Previous studies have been unable to prove a strong association between these sugary additives and cancer; one sizable study found a link between tabletop sweeteners and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, while another produced contradicting results.

The new study’s authors gathered daily food diaries from 102,865 French individuals over an average of nearly eight years to settle the controversy.

The researchers discovered that people who drink large amounts of sweeteners had a higher incidence of cancer incidence than non-consumers after controlling for other cancer risk variables like age, body mass index, physical activity, and fat intake.

Particularly, aspartame, an artificial sweetener, was linked to a 15% rise in all cancers and a 22% rise in the risk of breast cancer. While acesulfame-K, another sweetener, was found to have strong connections, aspartame was also connected to greater risks of obesity-related cancers.

Surprisingly, cancer risks were just as high among people who drank excessive amounts of artificial sweeteners as they were among people who ate more sugar than the normal person. This “suggests that artificial sweeteners and high sugar intake may be similarly connected with cancer risk,” according to the scientists.

It’s crucial to emphasize that neither this study explain any biological process underlying the apparent association between consumption and morbidity nor offers any proof of a direct connection between sweeteners and cancer.

However, in vitro studies have shown that aspartame may encourage DNA damage, worsen inflammation, and impair the body’s capacity to eliminate harmful cells, all of which are likely to have a role in the emergence of cancer.

There is evidence that several artificial sweeteners interfere with gut bacteria, and another study indicated that acesulfame-K causes even more DNA damage than aspartame. From any of these trials, no conclusive inferences can be made, but it is simple to understand why some scientists have hypothesized that sugar replacements may increase the risk of cancer.

Other natural sweeteners, like stevia, are also very popular among health-conscious diners who want to avoid adding sugar. Artificial sweeteners are frequently added to many food products. The current study does not cover the usage of these plant-based substitutes. Thus it is unclear whether they pose any comparable health hazards.

The authors conclude from the data they have seen that their “findings do not support the use of artificial sweeteners as safe alternatives for sugar in foods or beverages.”