Artificial Sweeteners: Consumption & Health Impacts

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Are you going to get cancer if you drink that diet soda 'laced' with an artificial sweetener? Find out in this lesson on the potential health effects that might stem from the consumption of artificial sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners

It seems like an obvious choice. If you're trying to lose weight, why consume a regular soda loaded with 200 calories, mainly sugar, when you can consume a sugar-free soda, with 0 calories, since it uses an artificial sweetener instead. An artificial sweetener is a no-calorie or very low-calorie sugar substitute. Artificial sweeteners include:

  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose. Don't get this confused with sucrose, which is table sugar.

Let's go over some of the potential health impacts that may stem from the consumption of artificial sweeteners.

Cancer

Early on, studies showed that the artificial sweeteners cyclamate and saccharin might be linked to bladder cancer in laboratory animals. Cyclamate is now banned in the U.S. Another study conducted on lab rats given high doses of aspartame have shown that this artificial sweetener might increase the risk of certain blood cancers, like leukemia. However, in addition to some of these and similar results being called in to question, extrapolating results from animals to humans isn't always an accurate way of assessing the risk of cancer in humans.

Studies that involved humans and artificial sweeteners have been all over the map as well. Some studies showed there might be a link between a type of cancer, like lymphoma, and an artificial sweetener while others did not. The takeaway at the moment is this: there is no clear-cut evidence as of yet that artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. lead to cancer in people. This is doubly true if consumed in limited quantities.

On the flipside, some are concerned that we still don't have enough evidence to say definitively that artificial sweeteners won't increase the risk of cancer in people who drink large amounts of soda that contain artificial sweeteners.

Digestive Health

There is some evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners might change our digestive health. For instance, a study conducted on mice showed that artificial sweeteners alter the population of gut bacteria. These are bacteria that help us digest and absorb our food. Another study showed that sucralose might decrease the good bacteria, the ones that keep you healthy, in your intestines. One paper even posited that sucralose might be responsible for the rise of inflammatory bowel disease in people. Once again, though, since most of these studies have been conducted on animals, it cannot be held to be conclusive of anything for humans.

As a result there is no clear-cut evidence that artificial sweeteners hurt a person's gastrointestinal health unless they are unusually sensitive to such sweeteners, in which case they may have a case of nausea or diarrhea.

Diabetes & Heart Disease

Artificial sweeteners, despite their relatively bad rap, might actually be beneficial for some people. For instance, diabetes and heart disease are definitely linked to weight gain and obesity. So, keeping the pounds off may help minimize the risk someone will get heart disease or diabetes. To that end, judicious use of artificial sweeteners might help a person cut back on the number of calories they consume and thus, the amount of weight they gain.

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