Artificial sweeteners may not be safe alternatives to sugar: a new study indicates an increased risk of cancer

Sugar sweeteners illustration

Artificial sweeteners may not be safe alternatives to sugar. Credit: Mathilde Touvier (CC-BY 4.0)

The study suggests an association between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of cancer.

Artificial sweeteners reduce the added sugar content and corresponding calories while maintaining sweetness. A study published on March 24th2022, a PLOS Medicine by Charlotte Debras and Mathilde Touvier at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) and Sorbonne Paris Nord University, France and colleagues, suggests that some artificial sweeteners are associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Many food and beverage products containing artificial sweeteners are consumed by millions of people every day. However, the safety of these additives has been a matter of debate. To assess the carcinogenic potential of artificial sweeteners, the researchers analyzed data from 102,865 French adults participating in the NutriNet-Santé study. The NutriNet-Santé study is an ongoing web-based cohort initiated in 2009 by the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team (EREN). Participants register voluntarily and independently report medical history, socio-demographic, diet, lifestyle and health data. Researchers collected data on artificial sweetener intake from 24-hour dietary records. After gathering information on cancer diagnosis during follow-up, the researchers conducted statistical analyzes to study associations between artificial sweetener intake and cancer risk. They also adjusted for a number of variables including age, gender, education, physical activity, smoking, BMI, height, weight gain during follow-up, diabetes, family history of cancer, as well as basic energy intake. , alcohol, sodium, saturated fatty acids, fiber, sugar, whole foods and dairy products.

The researchers found that subscribers who consumed higher amounts of artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame and acesulfame-K, had a higher risk of cancer overall than non-consumers (hazard ratio 1.13, 95% confidence interval). 1.03 to 1.25). Higher risks were observed for breast cancer and obesity-related cancers.

The study had several important limitations; dietary intakes are self-reported. Selection bias may also have been a factor, as participants were more likely to be women, have higher education levels, and exhibit health-conscious behaviors. The observational nature of the study also means that residual confounding is possible and reverse causation cannot be ruled out. Further research will be needed to confirm the findings and elucidate the underlying mechanisms.

According to the authors, “Our findings do not support the use of artificial sweeteners as safe alternatives to sugar in food or beverages and provide important and new information to address the controversies about their potential adverse health effects. Although these findings must be replicated in other large-scale cohorts and in the underlying mechanisms clarified by experimental studies, they provide important and new insights for the ongoing re-evaluation of food additives by the European Food Safety Authority and other health agencies globally ”.

Debras adds: “Findings from the NutriNet-Santé cohort (n = 102,865) suggest that artificial sweeteners found in many food and beverage brands around the world may be associated with an increased risk of cancer, consistent with several experimental studies. in vivo / in vitro. These results provide new information for the re-evaluation of these food additives by health agencies. “

Reference: “Artificial sweeteners and cancer risk: results of the NutriNet-Santé population-based cohort study” by Charlotte Debras, Eloi Chazelas, Bernard Srour, Nathalie Druesne-Pecollo, Younes Esseddik, Fabien Szabo de Edelenyi, Cédric Agaësse, Alexandre De Sa, Rebecca Lutchia, Stéphane Gigandet, Inge Huybrechts, Chantal Julia, Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, Benjamin Allès, Valentina A. Andreeva, Pilar Galan, Serge Hercberg, Mélanie Deschasaux-Tanguy and Mathilde Touvier, 24 March 2022, PLOS Medicine.
DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pmed.1003950

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