Splenda Raises Cancer Worries, What About Other Sweeteners?
Before you reach for another product that boasts it has been sweetened with no-calorie Splenda (sucralose), you might take heed of a warning from a leading cancer scientist about how this artificial sweetener raises cancer risk in mice. But cancer worries and other health concerns are not limited to Splenda, as other sweeteners also may place you and your family at risk.
Artificial sweeteners are not so sweet
People have a love affair with sugar and sweet things, and to help keep that love affair alive—and low-calorie—scientists have developed several different no-calorie sweeteners over the years. While the number of artificial sweeteners and the foods they can be found in have risen dramatically, so has the percentage of people who are overweight or obese, so some might say the love affair has gone bad.
It seems that artificial sweeteners are not so sweet, and Splenda is just one example. According to Dr. Morando Soffritti, director of the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, new research shows that mice had a higher risk of developing cancer after consuming sucralose. His findings were presented at the Childhood Cancer 2012 conference in London.
Sucralose is a synthetic compound discovered in 1976 by British scientists who were looking for a new pesticide. The Splenda molecule is composed of sucrose (sugar), but three of the hydroxyl groups in the molecules have been replaced by chlorine atoms.
According to Marcelle Pick, Ob/Gyn NP, “While some industry experts claim the molecule is similar to table salt or sugar, other independent researchers say it has more in common with pesticides. That’s because the bonds holding the carbon and chlorine atoms together are more characteristic of a chlorocarbon than a salt--and most pesticides are chlorocarbons.”
Dr. Soffritti and his team found evidence of a heightened cancer risk associated with sucralose in a recent study during which they fed 843 mice various doses of the sugar from the time they were fetuses until they died. The post-mortem examinations showed that the more sucralose male mice ate, the greater was their likelihood of developing leukemia.
Other artificial sweeteners
Other artificial sweeteners have associated concerns as well. In particular, aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) was the subject of another study by Soffritti and his team. That research involved about 3,000 rodents who were fed aspartame, and the findings were not so sweet.
Dr. Soffritti noted that “Our early studies in rats showed increases in several types of cancer,” while his more recent studies showed “a statistically significant increase of liver and lung tumors in male mice. This shows aspartame causes cancer in various places of the body in two different species.” Soffritti is not the only one concerned about aspartame’s cancer risk, as the European Food Safety Authority undertook a new investigation because of increasing health concerns over the artificial sweetener.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a list of food additives that it rates as “safe,” “cut back” (not toxic but large amounts may be unsafe or unhealthy), and “avoid” (unsafe in amounts consumed or poorly tested). Here is a brief review of artificial sweeteners on the “avoid” list:
- Acesulfame potassium: Acesulfame-K can be found in soft drinks, desserts, and chewing gum, and is often used along with sucralose. Two rat studies indicate the artificial sweetener might cause cancer. Large doses of a breakdown product of the product have been shown to impact the thyroid in dogs, rats, and rabbits.
- Aspartame: This combination of two amino acids and methanol has been the subject of a number of animal studies that have found evidence of brain tumors, leukemia, lymphomas, and breast cancer. A 2010 Danish study linked consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks to preterm delivery of babies. The investigators suggested the release of methanol during the breakdown of aspartame might be the problem.
- Cyclamate: This artificial sweetener was available in the United States until 1970, when it was banned. Animal studies indicated that it causes cancer, and subsequent research showed it increases the potency of other cancer-causing substances and harms the testes.
- Saccharin: Also known as Sweet ‘N Low, animal studies have shown saccharin can cause cancer of the uterus, bladder, ovaries, skin, blood vessels, and other organs. The Food and Drug Administration requested a ban on saccharin in 1977, but Congress allowed its use as long as foods with saccharin had a warning label. Pressure from the diet food industry contributed to the eventual removal of the warning label and saccharin’s place on the list of cancer-causing chemicals.
One no-calorie sweetener that may be safer is stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), an herb that comes from South America. Stevia is more than 100 times sweeter than sugar and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food supplement, and the CSPI says it should be used with caution until more testing has been done. You might also satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sugars, such as fresh or dried fruits, although these are not calorie-free.
The sour side of sweeteners
According to Dr. Soffritti and his team, “Now that we have found evidence of a link between sucralose and cancer in mice, similar research should be urgently repeated on rats, and large scale observational studies should be set up to monitor any potential cancer risk to human health.”
This finding led Dr. Soffritti to strongly advise children and pregnant women to not consume artificial sweeteners until more research is done to determine that the risk of cancer in humans associated with artificial sweeteners has been dismissed.
Splenda is not the only artificial, low- or no-calorie sweetener to raise cancer concerns, so it may be time to turn your attention to other sweet alternatives.
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Childhood Cancer 2012
Pick, Marcelle. Womentowomen.com
Image: Wikimedia Commons