Decade-long study shows artificial sweeteners in diet sodas, snacks may up cancer risk

artificial sweeteners

The use of artificial sweeteners could be a factor for high risk of developing cancer, a large-scale study had highlighted.  However, experts who were not involved in the study suggested it was not sufficient proof to consider varying existing health advice.

Sweeteners are utilized in millions of food items like diet soda, as a method to evade weight gain from sugar, but on the other hand, how healthy these substitutes are themselves remains controversial.

Researchers examined the data of over 100,000 people in France to assess the cancer risk due to sweeteners. The participants self-reported their diet, lifestyle, and medical history between 2009-2021 as part of the NutriNet-Sante study.

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Afterward, analysts compared sweetener consumption to the rate of cancer, while modifying for other variables such as poor diet, smoking, age, and physical activity.

The people who used up the largest amount of sweeteners, “beyond the median amount, had an increased cancer risk of 13 percent compared to non-consumers,” Mathilde Touvier, research director at France’s INSERM institute and the study’s supervisor said.

According to the study printed in the journal PLOS Medicine, increased cancer risk was mostly observed with sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame potassium, both of them are used in many soft drinks including Coke Zero.

Soft drinks were noted for over half of the artificial sweeteners consumed, whereas table-top sweeteners recorded 29 percent.

Moreover, the study discovered that “higher risks were observed for breast cancer and obesity-related cancers”.

On contrary, Touvier said “we cannot totally exclude biases linked to the lifestyle of consumers”, adding that further research is to be needed to confirm the study’s results.

Both US National Cancer Institute and Cancer Research UK have the opinion that sweeteners are not the cause of cancer, and they have been approved for use by the European Food Safety Authority.

“The relationship between artificial sweetener consumption and cancer risk is a controversial one, going back to the 1970s when (sweetener) cyclamate was banned for being linked to bladder cancer in rats — although this was never shown to be the case in humans,” said James Brown, a biomedical scientist at Britain’s Aston University. He was not involved in the study.

Meanwhile, Michael Jones of The Institute of Cancer Research, London had the same point of view and said the link reported in the study “does not imply causation” and was “not proof that artificial sweeteners cause cancer”.

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