Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?
Patti Yocubik, RN
Many people today choose sugar substitutes to sweeten their lives, without adding any calories. People choose no-calorie sweeteners for a variety of reasons. Some reasons are: To keep blood sugar under control for those who have diabetes; to avoid calories for those who desire to lose weight. Some people just prefer not to have sugar and enjoy the extra sweet taste. Artificial sweeteners can be 8-8,000 times sweeter than table sugar (1). Whatever the reason for choosing an artificial sweetener, the same questions remain: “Are artificial sweeteners safe for me to use?” and “Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer?” The FDA regulates artificial sweeteners, just as they do other foods and drugs. Extensive research and studies have been done to answer the question of artificial sweetener safety and the FDA reviews their findings to determine safety.
Saccharin, also known as Sweet-n-Low, has been available on the market, since 1957. Many people have used saccharin for years to sweeten drinks. “Studies in laboratory rats, in the early 1970’s, linked saccharin to the development of bladder cancer.” (2) The bladder cancers that the rats were getting were specific to rats and not humans and subsequent research proved that. Since the results of the original study were released, the FDA has required labels on foods that contain saccharin to warn of potential cancer risk. Since then many other studies have been done that found no evidence that saccharin increased the risk of any cancers.
Aspartame, or NutraSweet, also known as Equal, is another artificial sweetener that has made its way into homes across America. NutraSweet was released in 1981. There was great concern regarding its safety when the incidence of brain tumors began to rise from 1975-1992. The National Cancer Institute collected data and found that the rise in brain tumors actually started in 1973 which was eight years prior to Aspartame being released. They also found that people who had been affected by the brain tumors were age 70 and older and were the least likely to have had exposure to Aspartame. Subsequent research and studies found no link to brain tumors from Aspartame (2).
One of the newer sweeteners on the market is Sucralose, or Splenda. Splenda was approved and available for market sale in 1998. Splenda was the first artificial sweetener that could be used in cooking. Splenda remains stable during the heating process. The FDA reviewed over 90 studies that examined Splenda’s safety for human consumption and determined that Splenda did not pose a risk for cancer, or any other health effects (1).
So are artificial sweeteners safe? Millions of people use artificial sweeteners today will no ill effects. Studies and research tell us they are safe. There are some people, however, who cannot tolerate artificial sweeteners, just as some people cannot tolerate certain types of food. Everyone is different. For more information, go to http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm397711.htm or http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007492.htm
- WebMD, (2005). Retrieved from: www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/are-artificial-sweeteners-safe
- National Cancer Institute, (2005). Retrieved from: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/artificial-sweeteners