What is 955, 952, 954, 950 Sweeteners
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Facts about Artificial sweeteners and cancer
Origin of the myth
Aspartame [additive #951] is an artificial (non-nutritive) sweetener used to replace
sugar in food and drinks. Early animal studies showed varied results about the safety
of aspartame. There was a large controversy regarding the approval of aspartame in the
US. In 1981, the head of the FDA was fired, allegedly after refusing to approve the
legalization of aspartame. His successor legalized it and later accepted a job offer with
Searle, the company which owned aspartame.
There are four other major commercial sweeteners, sucralose 
saccharin , cyclamate  and acesulphame potassium 
These have also been linked with various forms of cancer,
genetic abnormalities and other chronic diseases.
In 2006, the European Ramazzini Foundation published a study on aspartame
consumption in rats and linked its consumption to an increase in the incidence of
The European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) requested all unpublished data from
the study and re-evaluated all current evidence. They maintained that the Acceptable
Daily Intake (ADI) for aspartame (40 mg/kg body weight) was still safe.
A survey conducted by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) in 2003
examined the amount of aspartame eaten in Australia. It was found that average
consumers of aspartame were eating 6% of the ADI, and high consumers were eating
15% of the ADI. It was concluded that Australian consumption was well below the
levels at which adverse health effects could occur.
A large safety evaluation published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology in 2007
reviewed the health effects experienced at current consumption levels. No credible evidence indicating the carcinogenicity of aspartame was found.
After ingestion, aspartame breaks down into three products: aspartic acid, methanol
and phenylalanine. Compared with other foods, such as milk, the amount of these
chemicals is comparatively low. Some people with a genetic disorder called
phenylketonuria (or PKU) cannot metabolise phenylalanine. However, these three
products are safe to eat for the general population.
There have been cases in which birth defect, brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease,
multiple sclerosis and seizure sufferers have attributed their condition to aspartame
consumption. These claims are anecdotal and not based on scientific evidence.
A few decades ago, saccharin was seen as an unsafe alternative to sugar and aspartame.
During the 1970s, many animal studies linked high saccharin consumption with increased risk of bladder cancer. As a result of these studies, Saccharin was banned in Canada in 1977. In 1980, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for the Research on Cancer (IARC) listed saccharin as a possible carcinogen in humans.
The Report on Carcinogens (RoC) is a list of known or reasonably anticipated human
carcinogens (cancer causing substances). Saccharin was added to the RoC (second
edition) in 1981 as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.
Since then, the carcinogenicity of saccharin has undergone review based on the results of
several studies. First, some studies reviewed by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP)
found that the results found in rats could not be replicated in mice. These studies indicate
that the increase in bladder cancers in rats is due to the physiology of the rat urinary system. Another study examined the rates of cancer among diabetics, who are more likely to consume artificial sweeteners. The risk of bladder cancer was found to be no higher among diabetics than in the general population.
As a result of these data, saccharin was removed from the RoC in 2000. The IARC re-evaluated saccharin and removed the possible carcinogen label. Health Canada is
currently reviewing its ban on saccharin.
Cyclamates have been another source of controversy as they were banned in the US in 1969 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are still banned in the US.
According to IARC, there is insufficient evidence that cyclamates cause cancer
in either humans or animals. Studies reviewed by the IARC indicate that cyclamates are
largely excreted in urine unchanged, apart from small amounts which are converted to
another chemical and absorbed.
Cyclamates are not listed in the report on carcinogens (RoC).
The Joint FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)/WHO (World Health Organization)
Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has recommended an ADI (acceptable
daily intake) for cyclamates of 11 mg/kg body weight.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has also conducted a safety
assessment of cyclamates, which concludes that this ADI adequately protects
consumers. Exposure assessments by FSANZ have found that all people over 12
years of age and 95% of children aged 2-11 consume cyclamates within this ADI. To
remedy the over-consumption of the remaining 5% of children, FSANZ is reducing the
maximum amount of cyclamates allowed in flavoured drinks by almost half. FSANZ
believes this will eliminate over-consumption of cyclamates in children.
- Soffritti, M., et al., First experimental demonstration of the multipotential carcinogenic effects of aspartame administered in the feed to Sprague-Dawley rats. Environ Health Perspect, 2006. 114(3): p.379-85.
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Aspartame. 2007 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/scdocs/scdoc/1015.htm
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Consumption of intense sweeteners in Australia: Benchmark survey 2003, in Evaluation report series, FSANZ, Editor. 2003, Food Standards Australia New Zealand,: Canberra. p. 165.
- Magnuson, B.A., et al., Aspartame: a safety evaluation based on current use levels, regulations, and toxicological and epidemiological studies. Crit Rev Toxicol, 2007. 37(8): p. 629-727.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Aspartame. Fact Sheets 2007 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from:https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/newsroom/factsheets/factsheets2007/aspartameseptember203703.cfm.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Volume 22: Some Non-Nutritive Sweetening Agents, in IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, IARC, Editor. 1980, IARC: Lyon, France.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Saccharin. Report on Carcinogens 2005 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from: https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/19686.
- Report on Carcinogens Subcommittee of the NTP Board of Scientific Counselors, NTP report on carcinogens background document for saccharin. 1999.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Volume 73: Some Chemicals that Cause Tumours of the Kidney or Urinary Bladder in Rodents and Some Other Substances, in IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, IARC, Editor. 1999, IARC: Lyon, France.
- Health Canada. Information Document on the Proposal to Reinstate Saccharin for Use as a Sweetener in Foods in Canada. 2007 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from: https://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/addit/sweeten-edulcor/index-eng.php
- US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cyclamate update. 1989 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from:https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/WhatWeDo/History/Milestones/ucm081229.htm
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). Food additive status list. 2006 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from: https://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/opa-appa.html#ftnC.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 11th Report on Carcinogens. 2005, Public Health Service - National Toxicology Program,.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Sodium Cylcamate. Combined Compendium of Food Additive Specifications 2007 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from: https://www.fao.org/ag/agn/jecfa-additives/details.html?id=636.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Final assessment report: Proposal P287: Review of cyclamate permissions, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Editor. 2007, FSANZ: Canberra.
- European Commission - Scientific Committee on Food, Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on sucralose, Health and consumer protection directorate-general, Editor. 2000: Brussels. p. 25.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Sucralose. Combined Compendium of Food Additive Specifications 2006 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from:https://www.fao.org/ag/agn/jecfa-additives/details.html?id=546.
- Health Canada. Artificial Sweeteners. 2007 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from:https://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/addit/sweeten-edulcor/index-eng.php
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption; Sucralose, Office of the Federal Register, Editor. 1998. p. 16417-16433.
- European Commission - Scientific Committee on Food, Opinion: Re-evaluation of acesulfame K with reference to the previous SCF opinion of 1991, Health and consumer protection directorate-general, Editor. 2000: Brussels. p. 8.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Acesulfame Potassium. Combined Compendium of Food Additive Specifications 2007 [cited 21/01/2008]; Available from: https://www.fao.org/ag/agn/jecfa-additives/details.html?id=841.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Application A452 - Aspartame-Acesulphame Salt, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Editor. 2003, FSANZ: Canberra.
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption; Acesulfame Potassium, Office of the Federal Register, Editor. 2003. p. 75411-75413.
- Weihrauch, M.R. and V. Diehl, Artificial sweeteners--do they bear a carcinogenic risk? Ann Oncol, 2004.15(10): p. 1460-5.
- Kroger, M., K. Meister, and R. Kava, Low-calorie Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes: A Review of the Safety Issues. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 2006. 5(2): p. 35-47.
Link to this article: https://www.cancerwa.asn.au/resources/cancermyths/artificial-sweeteners-myth/