Artificial sweeteners can increase cancer risk, study warns

PARIS, France — If you think picking a packet of zero-calorie Splenda is going to let you have your cake and eat it too, think again. New research from France reveals that consuming common artificial sweeteners can increase your risk for cancer.

Millions of people consume artificial sweeteners on a daily basis. When companies first rolled out the synthetic sugar substitutes, they marketed them as a way to reduce sugar and calorie intake without sacrificing sweetness. Nowadays, artificial sweeteners have become a staple in many candies, canned foods, and diet sodas.

The researchers analyzed data from 102,865 adults living in France who were already taking part in an ongoing nutrition study since 2009. People self-reported their medical history, sociodemographic information, diet, lifestyle, and health data. The team took people’s data on artificial sweetener intake from their dietary records.

A follow-up appointment with study participants helped in collecting any new diagnoses of cancer. Considering different factors that could play a role in cancer — including a person’s age, body mass index, and smoking habits — researchers performed a statistical analysis to calculate the relationship between artificial sweeteners and cancer.

More cases of breast cancer after using sweeteners

People who consumed large amounts of artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame and acesulfame-K, had a higher risk of developing cancer than people who did not consume artificial sweeteners. Specifically, the researchers observed a greater number of breast cancer and obesity-related cancer diagnoses among these individuals.

Does this mean you should say goodbye to products like Splenda and Sweet’N Low? It’s unclear at this time, as the study had a few caveats. The study ran into a selection bias problem as most participants did not represent the average population. Most participants were women, had higher education levels, and were more likely to practice healthy eating habits. However, researchers say the evidence points to a clear risk in using sugar alternatives.

“Our findings do not support the use of artificial sweeteners as safe alternatives for sugar in foods or beverages and provide important and novel information to address the controversies about their potential adverse health effects. These results are particularly relevant in the context of the ongoing in-depth re-evaluation of artificial sweeteners by EFSA and other agencies globally,” researchers write in a media release.

The study is published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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