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Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer

Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer


Key Points

  • Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • There is no clear evidence that the artificial sweeteners available commercially in the United States are associated with cancer risk in humans.
  • Studies have been conducted on the safety of several artificial sweeteners, including saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, and cyclamate.
  1. What are artificial sweeteners and how are they regulated in the United States?Artificial sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are substances that are used instead of sucrose (table sugar) to sweeten foods and beverages. Because artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar, smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness.Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA, like the National Cancer Institute (NCI), is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The FDA regulates food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, biologics, and radiation-emitting products. The Food Additives Amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which was passed by Congress in 1958, requires the FDA to approve food additives, including artificial sweeteners, before they can be made available for sale in the United States. However, this legislation does not apply to products that are “generally recognized as safe.” Such products do not require FDA approval before being marketed.
  2. Is there an association between artificial sweeteners and cancer? Questions about artificial sweeteners and cancer arose when early studies showed that cyclamate in combination with saccharin caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals. However, results from subsequent carcinogenicity studies (studies that examine whether a substance can cause cancer) of these sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans. Similarly, studies of other FDA-approved sweeteners have not demonstrated clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans.
  3. What have studies shown about a possible association between specific artificial sweeteners and cancer?

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