Artificial Sweeteners Carry Increased Cancer Risk: Study

Splenda was the only artificial sweetener not linked to an increased cancer risk, researchers found.

The findings of a new study raise concerns about the potential long-term side effects associated with artificial sweeteners, such as Equal, Splenda and Sweet One, indicating that the sugar alternatives may actually increase an individual’s overall risk of developing cancer.

Artificial sweeteners like Equal and Sweet One have been popular sugar alternatives for decades, commonly found in diet or no-sugar drinks, and widely used for coffee and other products. However, according to research published last month in the journal PLOS Medicine, regular use may increase the risk of developing any type of cancer by 13%, with a 22% increased risk of breast cancer specifically.

French researchers evaluated the side effects of artificial sweeteners including aspartame, known by the brand name Equal, Acesulfame potassium, also known as Acesulfame-K or the brand Sweet One, and sucralose, sold under the brand name Splenda.

Researchers studied nearly 103,000 adults from the French population-based cohort NutriNet-Sante. Dietary intake and consumption of sweeteners was obtained by repeated 24-hour dietary records including brand names of industrial products collected every 6 months.

Artificial sweeteners were consumed by 37% of the participants, with Equal used by nearly 60% of participants, Sweet One used by nearly 30% of users, and Splenda used by 10% of users.

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A total of 3,358 cancer cases were diagnosed during follow-up. The most common types were obesity-related cancers with 2,023 cases, breast cancer with 982 cases, and prostate cancer with 403 cases.

The data indicated overall consumption of artificial sweeteners, of any type, increased the risk of cancer by 13%.

Using Equal alone was linked with a 22% increased risk of breast cancer and a 15% higher risk for obesity-related cancers, those include colorectal, stomach, liver, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophageal, breast, ovarian, endometrial, and prostate cancers.

Low consumption of artificial sweeteners, even individually, was tied to a higher risk for all cancers.

High consumption was considered 17.44 mg/day in men and 19 mg/day in women for total artificial sweeteners, 14.45 mg/day in men and 15.39 mg/day in women for Equal, 5.06 mg/day in men and 5.50 mg/day in women for Sweet One, and 3.46 mg/day in men and 3.43 mg/day in women for Splenda.

High-consumers of total artificial sweeteners had a higher risk of overall cancer, but Equal and acesulfame-K, or Sweet One, were linked with the highest increased cancer risk. Splenda consumption was not linked to cancer risk at any level.

People who consumed artificial sweeteners tended to be women, younger, smokers, less physically active, more educated, and more likely to have prevalent diabetes compared with those who avoided artificial sweeteners.

Other observational studies have linked artificially sweetened beverages to increased risk of cancer.

The findings of the study could have significant implications for the health of the US population. However, the findings need to be replicated in larger-scale studies to prove cause and effect and determine the full risk, the researchers noted.

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