The science on artificial sweeteners
Studies on artificial sweeteners, including saccharin and aspartame, have shown no convincing evidence of an association with cancer. Earlier cancer scares surrounding certain sweeteners have been discredited.
However, The Conversation recently revealed new evidence suggesting a link. A study in PLOS Medicine, which looked at more than 100,000 people – half of whom were followed for more than eight years – said people who consume high levels of some sweeteners – aspartame and acesulfame K, in particular – have a small increase in their risk of certain types of cancer, especially breast and obesity-related cancers, such as colorectal, stomach and prostate cancers.
We put the article to Nicole Musuwo, our Senior Research Interpretation Officer. She said:
"Overall, the evidence on artificial sweeteners and cancer risk in humans remains inconclusive. While the study in PLOS Medicine found an increased risk, looking at the entirety of the evidence is more important than one study alone. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis – which pools together all the relevant studies – published by the World Health Organization in April found no association between higher intakes of sweeteners and cancer incidence or mortality. There is some, but very low, evidence for an increased risk of bladder cancer; however, the majority of evidence comes from case-control studies and more clinical trials are needed.
“In relation to artificially sweetened drinks, we have found no strong evidence in humans to suggest that diet drinks are a cause of cancer. What we do know is that maintaining a healthy weight, keeping active and eating a healthy diet are the best ways to reduce your risk of cancer, as well as not smoking and staying out of the sun.”