While very popular in many foods and beverages, some artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of developing cancer. The results of a large study found that ingesting some artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame and acesulfame-K) are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
The study, conducted in France, followed more than 102,000 adults for an average of 8 years. The researchers found an increased risk overall of cancer, as well as breast cancer and obesity related cancers, in people who reported intake of artificial sweeteners (as compared to people who did not consume artificial sweeteners). The breast cancer and obesity related cancer risk was linked to aspartame use.
By the way, some other studies, including animal studies and in vitro studies, have suggested that artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, have a role in cancer development, as well as other health issues and changes in the gut microbiome.
Excerpts from Science Daily: Study suggests association between consuming artificial sweeteners and increased cancer risk
Artificial sweeteners reduce added sugar content and corresponding calories while maintaining sweetness. A study publishing March 24 in 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 increased cancer risk.
Many food products and beverages containing artificial sweeteners are consumed by millions of people daily. However, the safety of these additives has been a subject of debate. To evaluate the potential carcinogenicity of artificial sweeteners, researchers analyzed data from 102,865 French adults participating in the NutriNet-Santé study.
The researchers found that enrollees consuming larger quantities of artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame and acesulfame-K, had higher risk of overall cancer compared to 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.
According to the authors, "Our findings do not support the use of artificial sweeteners as safe alternatives for sugar in foods or beverages and provide important and novel information to address the controversies about their potential adverse health effects. While these results need to be replicated in other large-scale cohorts and underlying mechanisms clarified by experimental studies, they provide important and novel insights for the ongoing re-evaluation of food additive sweeteners by the European Food Safety Authority and other health agencies globally."
Debras adds, "Results from the NutriNet-Santé cohort (n=102,865) suggest that artificial sweeteners found in many food and beverage brands worldwide may be associated with increased cancer risk, in line with several experimental in vivo / in vitro studies. These findings provide novel information for the re-evaluation of these food additives by health agencies."