Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Cancer? Facts of Aspartame, Sucralose and Cancer

It is no secret that excess sugar consumption can become a big threat to our health. We often consume more sugar than we might want because it has been added to various foods. No wonder the food industry came up with an alternative: artificial sweeteners.  

Artificial sweeteners are a great replacement for sugary foods and drinks, especially for people with diabetes, as they can help manage blood sugar.  

Even though they have been around for as long as a hundred years, artificial sweeteners are still debated among health-conscious individuals. One of the concerns about these sugar substitutes is their alleged link to cancer.  

In this article, we will examine the facts surrounding aspartame and sucralose and their potential connection to cancer. We will also explore the controversies and address common questions about these artificial sweeteners. The goal is to ultimately answer the question: Are artificial sweeteners truly a safe alternative to sugar? Or do they present risks that might affect our health?

Understanding cancer 

To discuss artificial sweeteners and their potential to cause cancer, we must first clarify the concept of cancer. Different kinds of cancers can affect the human body, but they all have one thing in common: uncontrollable growth of cells. 

In our bodies, cells divide constantly to form new tissues and keep our bodies alive and healthy. However, a mistake in the dividing process sometimes leads to abnormal tissue growth, resulting in a tumor. The presence of a tumor doesn’t necessarily indicate cancer.  

Tumors can be cancerous or not cancerous. Cancerous tumors can spread, damaging tissue in other parts of the body and forming new tumors.  

Non-cancerous tumors typically do not spread or regrow after removal. However, due to the space they occupy within tissues, they have the potential to cause significant damage to the body. 

There are more than a hundred different types of cancer. They all affect different tissues and can have different characteristics and treatment options. 

Cancer can develop for multiple reasons. In this article, we will use current research to discover if artificial sweeteners play a role in this process (1).  

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Does aspartame cause cancer? 

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used as a sugar substitute in many diet products and low-calorie foods. It consists of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and a compound called methanol. In the food industry, aspartame is used in more than 6,000 different products and is 200 times sweeter than sucrose (3). 

Is aspartame a carcinogen? 

No, aspartame does not cause cancer. However, it is classified as “possibly carcinogenic for humans.” Some research has demonstrated that aspartame is potentially carcinogenic. However, these research results were not convincing enough to declare it a carcinogen (2). Besides that, both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) state that aspartame is safe for humans to consume (5).  

These findings emphasize the need to make intentional decisions about using artificial sweeteners. The FDA, however, created an acceptable daily intake level (ADI) for aspartame consumption. Consuming artificial sweeteners below the ADI means there is no risk of adverse effects. The ADI for aspartame is 75 tabletop sweetener packages daily for a 123-pound individual (9).  

Can aspartame be avoided? 

To avoid consuming aspartame, pay attention to food labels that claim products to be “diet” or “low-sugar.” Because of its wide use, aspartame might be present in those foods (5). If you still want to keep an eye on your sugar consumption by using artificial sweeteners, there are other options: 

  • Stevia 
  • Monk fruit

For more about other sugar substitutes, visit the FDA website (10). 

Does phenylalanine cause cancer? 

Phenylalanine is one of the amino acids present in aspartame (3). For most people, phenylalanine is nothing to worry about. However, some people have a genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU), which causes them to metabolize phenylalanine differently. This can lead to brain damage, seizures, or skin problems in those affected (6).  

Does Splenda (sucralose) cause cancer

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener approximately 600 times sweeter than table sugar. It gained FDA approval over 20 years ago. Unlike other sweeteners, sucralose maintains its sweetness when heated, making it suitable for use in heated or baked products. This versatility sets it apart from other artificial sweeteners (7).  

What current studies say about Splenda and cancer 

There has been no research showing that sucralose causes cancer. Even in long-term animal studies, there was no connection between sucralose consumption and cancer. In general, sucralose was well tolerated by healthy adults (4). The ADI is 23 tabletop sweetener packages a day for a 123-pound person. Adjust your consumption if you weigh less or more than 123 pounds. If you are unsure how much you can consume according to the ADI, please consult your doctor (9).  

Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Cancer Facts of Aspartame Sucralose and Cancer

The controversy over artificial sweeteners 

The controversy over artificial sweeteners could have many causes. For example, a 1970s study found that the consumption of the sugar substitute saccharin led to bladder cancer in rats. Later, no link was found between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and cancer in humans. Findings such as these may cause concern in the general public about using artificial sweeteners. 

There are still some topics regarding artificial sweeteners that need further research, such as the effect sugar replacements have on hunger cravings, strokes, and gut diseases. 

If you have a sensitive gut, consuming sugar alcohols like sorbitol might pose the risk of bloating, diarrhea, or gas. Thus, you may think about lowering your consumption of these sugar substitutes or cutting them out altogether.  

Given the fact that these sugar substitutes can disrupt gut function, among other potential bodily processes, it is best to make informed decisions regarding the most healthy ones for use.

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Why is aspartame banned in Europe? 

Aspartame is not banned in Europe. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has approved its use in food and beverages and makes it widely available (5).  

Why did Japan ban artificial sweeteners? 

Japan’s reason for banning artificial sweeteners is less health-related than economic. It wants to support and protect its own sugar industry (8). 

What are the two most controversial sweeteners in the world?  

Cyclamates and their salts, as well as whole-leaf and crude stevia extracts, are perhaps the most controversial artificial sweeteners. The FDA has banned them. Whole-leaf and crude stevia extracts are not to be confused with steviol glycosides, which the FDA has approved for use (11).  

What can I do to avoid getting cancer?

There are many things you can do to live a healthier life and possibly also avoid getting cancer. However, the development of cancer is a multifaceted process determined by different factors that sometimes might be out of your control. The following steps might play a central role in cancer prevention (12):
– Don’t smoke 
– Eat a balanced whole foods diet full of vegetables and fruits
– Avoid alcohol
– Exercise and maintain a healthy weight 
– Use sun protection
– Get enough sleep
– Manage stress

Summary

Research on the safety of artificial sweeteners will continue to emerge. When making informed decisions regarding their use, it is important to be mindful of the healthiest and cleanest options, such as monk fruit and stevia. While artificial sweeteners offer some benefits relative to reducing sugar consumption, long-term use has not been studied extensively.

If you are suffering from phenylketonuria, you should avoid aspartame, as it can cause serious damage to your body. Besides that, always make sure to check in with a health professional.  

A sensitive gut might be another reason to avoid artificial sweeteners made from sugar alcohols, as they can cause bowel discomfort.  

However, focusing on a healthy diet is more important than replacing sugary foods and drinks with artificially sweetened products. Eating the right foods and moving your body will always be the most sustainable way to long-term health.

How Do You Feel About This Article?

Lauren-Ann

Medical reviewed by Lauren Ann Teeter, CNS, LCSW

Functional & Integrative Approach To Mental Health, Functional Nutrition, Functional & Integrative Medicine, Psychotherapy, Mental Health

Lauren-Ann

Medical reviewed by Lauren Ann Teeter, CNS, LCSW

Functional & Integrative Approach To Mental Health, Functional Nutrition, Functional & Integrative Medicine, Psychotherapy, Mental Health

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