Study Finds That Artificial Sweeteners May Increase the Risk of Cancer

Although artificial sweeteners help in reducing added sugar content and subsequent calorie intake while preserving sweetness, a study has found that certain artificial sweeteners are linked to an increase in the risk of cancer.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003950

Millions of individuals are consuming many beverage and food products that contain artificial sweeteners every day. The safety of artificial sweeteners has however been a contentious subject. To assess the potential carcinogenicity of these additives, data from 102,865 individuals taking part in the NutriNet-Santé study was analyzed.

Individuals signed up voluntarily and self-reported health, lifestyle, diet, socio-demographic, and medical history data. Data was collected regarding the consumption of artificial sweeteners from 24-hour dietary records. After cancer diagnosis information was collected during follow-up, statistical analyses were performed to examine the relationships between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and the risk of cancer.

An array of variables were also adjusted for which included family history of cancer, diabetes, weight gain during follow-up, height, body mass index, smoking, physical activity, education, sex, age, and also baseline intakes of dairy products, whole-grain foods, sugar, fiber, saturated fatty acids, sodium, and alcohol.

It was discovered that individuals who consumed artificial sweeteners in larger quantities, especially acesulfame-K and aspartame, had a higher risk of overall cancer in comparison to those not consuming artificial sweeteners. Higher risks were seen for obesity-related cancers and breast cancer.

The study had a few limitations; dietary consumption was self-reported, and selection bias could also have been a factor, as individuals were more likely to have higher education levels, to be women, and to exhibit health-conscious behaviors. The study’s observational nature also meant that there was a possibility of residual confounding and reverse causality can’t be ruled out. More studies will be necessary to confirm the results and clarification of the underlying mechanisms.

The results don’t support using artificial sweeteners as safe sugar alternatives in beverages or foods and provide important information for addressing the controversies concerning the potential adverse health effects. Although these results need to be replicated in additional studies, they provide important insights for the continuing re-evaluation of additive sweeteners in foods and beverages.

Artificial Sweetener Infographic

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