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Could sweeteners cause cancer?

Artificial sweeteners, substances with a high ability to sweeten, replacing sugar, are present in many food and beverage brands worldwide, consumed daily by millions of people. The daily amount of aspartame recommended by the United Nations Scientific Committee on Food and Health is 40 mg for every kilogram of body weight. This means that the acceptable daily intake for an adult weighing 60 kg is 2400 mg of the sweetener – equivalent, on average, to three sachets or 10 to 12 drops.

High-intensity sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are six artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, and aspartame) and two natural sweeteners (stevia (steviol glycosides) and monk fruit).

Two new studies, published in 2022, a follow-up and a review, address the role of sweeteners as a cause of cancer and death in general. Is this true?

There are sweeteners in several industrialized products, with various names and corresponding to several substances with a greater capacity to sweeten than sugar, for example, aspartame and acesulfame potassium, with a total of 200 times more significant to sweeten, and sucralose with a capacity of 600.

There are several inconclusive studies on the risk of using these substances and having chronic diseases such as obesity, cancer, and metabolic syndrome. In 2022, 2 studies drew attention to this topic. The first European research followed about 103,000 people for nine years. It showed that consumption of sweeteners based on aspartame and acesulfame potassium increased the risk of cancer, especially breast cancer, and those related to obesity. These sweeteners were consumed mainly in non-sugar-added soft drinks, tabletop sweeteners, and yogurts.

The amounts responsible for this risk were values ​​greater than 17 mg/day in men and 19 mg/day in women for artificial sweeteners in general; 14 mg/day in men and 15 mg/day in women for aspartame; and 5 mg/day in men and 5.5 mg/day in women for acesulfame-K—values ​​well below those recommended by international standards.

In the other study, the review of 25 previously published studies showed no association between the consumption of sweeteners and cancer but with mortality in general. There is a contradiction between European and American studies, perhaps due to nutritional differences between these countries. We must not forget that consuming large amounts of sugar, primarily when related to obesity, increases the risk of cancer.

All of this leads us to reflect on using sweeteners and industrialized products, especially ultra-processed ones, in moderation, avoiding large amounts. Cancer is a multifactorial, multi-cause disease, so that it may be an additional, but not the only, causal factor. Healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular physical activity and a balanced diet, continue to be a consensus in cancer prevention.


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