Artificial sweeteners linked to cancer risk in large new study

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New research shows that higher intakes of artificial sweeteners are linked to an increased risk of cancer. blowbackphoto/Getty Images
  • Almost half of adults in the United States consume artificial sweeteners.
  • Studies in human populations have shown that artificial sweeteners are safe, but results from in vitro and animal studies raise concerns.
  • A major new study of consumers of artificial sweeteners finds the products linked to an increased risk of cancer.

In particular, a large new observational study has found a link between consumption of artificial sweeteners aspartame and Acesulfame-Kand cancer.

The study found a 13% higher risk of cancer in general, with the highest odds of developing breast cancer and cancer-related cancer for people who consume large amounts of artificial sweeteners.

The artificial sweeteners market is global estimated at $22.2 billion and growing, an increase of almost $3 billion in just the last two years. That’s according to a 2017 study 41.4% of US adults and 25.1% of children use artificial sweeteners, ingredients in a large selection of commercial products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved them as “high-intensity sweeteners.” six such substances considered safe for human consumption at typical daily intake levels.

Many reputable medical authorities and organizations now consider artificial sweeteners to be safe after extensive epidemiological research involving human populations.

dr Philip Landrigan was not involved in the study. He is Director of the Global Public Health Program and the Global Pollution Observatory and Professor of Biology at the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society at Boston College, MA. He communicated Medical news today Why the new study is so important:

“There is strong evidence for the carcinogenicity of aspartame from animal studies, but no solid epidemiological confirmation to date. For this reason, this study is very important and has major public health implications.”

– dr landrigan

“Of particular concern to me as a pediatrician,” he noted, is the fact that “in animal testingeven very low doses of aspartame in the diet of a pregnant female rat are highly carcinogenic to her offspring.”

The new study is published in PLOS MEDICINE.

The study was authored by researchers affiliated with the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team (EREN) of the French Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) at Sorbonne Paris Nord University, the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) and the National Research Institute for Belong to Agriculture , Food and Environment (INRAE) in France.

Researchers analyzed the stories of 102,865 adults who participated in the ongoing study NutriNet Health Study which began collecting data in 2009. Participants were followed for the new research for an average of 7.8 years.

“The results of this study are very original as, to our knowledge, no previous cohort study had directly investigated the association between the quantitative intake of artificial sweeteners per se from all dietary sources – distinguishing the different types of sweeteners – and cancer risk,” said the lead author and PhD candidate Charlotte Debras told MNT.

The reason for the study, Debras said, was:

“Some observational studies have previously examined associations between cancer risk and consumption of artificially sweetened beverages (used as a proxy) and found an increased risk of cancer, suggesting that artificial sweeteners in these types of beverages may play a role in the development of cancer.” In addition, previous findings in animal models and in vitro/in vivo studies also suggested their carcinogenicity.”

Lead Investigator and Director of EREN dr Mathilde Touvier agreed MNT:

“We ran analyzes for the total amount of artificial sweeteners (i.e. the sum of acesulfame-K, aspartame, sucralose, cyclamates, saccharin, steviol glycosides and salt of aspartame-acesulfame) and then separately for the most prominent artificial sweeteners in the cohort (ie acesulfame-K, aspartame and sucralose).”

dr Touvier examined the greater risk of aspartame and acesulfame-K in more detail, stating, “It should be noted that aspartame and acesulfame-K were by far the most commonly consumed artificial sweeteners.”

She added:

“Hence, the fact that associations were observed for these two – and not, for example, sucralose – should be viewed with caution, as it may just be because aspartame and acesulfame-K were the most commonly consumed.” Perhaps there was not enough statistical power to detect associations with sucralose, and definitely the number of consumers of other sweeteners did not allow us to examine them as such, so no conclusions could be drawn for them.”

“On the basis of this study alone,” said Debras, “it is not possible to establish the causality of the association – this needs to be repeated in other studies in other countries and settings – and it is not possible to establish a ‘dose’ in which the risk occurs,’ if any.”

However, Debras noted, “What we can say is that in this study, higher consumers of artificial sweeteners, who were above the median intake of 18 mg/day, and for whom the median intake was 79.43 mg/day, significantly increased cancer risk compared to non-users.”

dr Touvier added:

“Residual confounding cannot be completely ruled out. However, the models were adjusted for a wide range of potential confounding variables, including dietary exposures (i.e., baseline intakes of energy, alcohol, sodium, saturated fat, fiber, sugar, whole grains, and dairy). [us] to limit confusing distortions.”

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