Artificial Sweetener: Should I Use It?

The FDA has approved 5 types of artificial sweeteners or scientifically referred to as “non-nutritive” sweeteners.  Most people are familiar with “Sweet n Low” (sacharrin), “Equal” (aspartame) and “Splenda” (sucralose) which are now commonly available in pink, blue and yellow sachets in most diners and coffee outlets.   Is it safe? Does it cause cancer?  If I take them to lose weight, does it work? Let’s separate the myths from the facts.

Many people argue that we should not use artificial sweeteners because it causes cancer.  It is true – there have been studies in the past.  In the 1970’s, a study linked saccharin to rats.  A 2005 study raised the possibility of aspartame causing lymphoma and leukemia in rats.   However, in all cases, the National Cencer Institute (USA) have ruled that based on subsequent carcinogenicity studies, it came to the conclusion that there is no evidence of such a link between artificial sweetener and cancer in humans.  The Cancer Research UK has also determined that approved artificial sweeteners do not cause cancer and have stated that “large studies looking at people have now provided strong evidence that artificial sweeteners are safe for humans”.  So there you have it — artificial sweeteners most likely do not cause cancer.

But is it entirely safe? There is some evidence of links between artificial sweeteners and other health concerns.  For example, an article in STROKE, a journal published by the American Heart Association, concluded that “artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia.” In another study done in 2017 by the University of Adelaide concludes that “artificial sweeteners can change the body’s response to glucose when consumed in large amounts, and could add to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes”.

Weight Loss

The other myth is that artificial sweetener helps you diet and achieve your weight loss goal.  Well, that is not entirely true either.  In a joint “Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association” in 2012, the Harvard study could not confirm that artificial sweeteners work in weight loss but issued a cautionary statement hedging that “these potential benefits will not be fully realized if there is a compensatory increase in energy intake from other sources.”  That means that people who drink diet coke all day long and have a milk shake later may not realise the benefit of weight loss from using artificial sweeteners.   The study agrees that when used judiciously, artificial sweetener can help by reducing your overall sugar intake.  And that works as long as you do not binge somewhere else!

In summary,

  • There is no evidence that artificial sweetener causes cancer in human.
  • Yes, there are some studies that link artificial sweeteners to other health problems like stroke, dementia and diabetes,
  • And no, artificial sweeteners do not always help with weight loss and diet if you make up for the calories some other way.  Many do!
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