Are Artificial Sugars Carcinogens?

Mary-Catherine, Sarah, Christianna, and Lauren

What is a "Carcinogen?"

A carcinogen is defined as any substance or agent that tends to produce a cancer.

FDA Regulations

The seven artificial sweeteners in the United States that are approved by the FDA are Acesulfame Potassium, Asparatame, Neotame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Stevia and Nectresse. These are proven to be sweeter than sugar and don't have any proven cancer risks.

The sweeteners that are not approved in the United States are Alitame, Cyclamate, Neohesperidine dihydrochalcone and Thaumatin.

Questions the FDA asks when evaluating if a sweetener should be approved are questions such as:

-How is the artificial sweetener made?

-What are its properties when added to foods and beverages?

-How much of the sweetener will be digested or absorbed by the body?

-Does this artificial sweetener have any known toxic effects, including hereditary disorders or cancer?

Artificial Sweeteners


Cyclamate is an artificial sweetener that is 30 times sweeter than sugar. In 1969 it was discovered that when combined with Saccharin causes cancer in laboratory mice. In 1895, the National Academy of Sciences deemed the artificial sweetener not a carcinogen (causing cancer) Cyclamate has yet to be approved for use in the United States. Because some of the findings in mice suggested that cyclamate might increase the risk of bladder cancer in humans, the FDA banned any use of cyclamate in 1969. After reexamination of cyclamate’s carcinogenicity, scientists concluded that cyclamate was not a carcinogen. A food additive petition was filed with the FDA for the reapproval of cyclamate, but this petition is currently not actively being considered. The FDA’s concerns about cyclamate are not cancer related.


Aspartame, an artificial sweetener approved by the FDA, is 200 times sweeter than regular sugar and has been used throughout the United States since 1981. The artificial sweetener has gained negative attention beginning in 2005 when a European study claimed that thee Aspartame could be linked to Leukemia and Lymphoma cancers primarily in female lab rats. However, the National Cancer Institute came back with a study the next year (in 2006) claiming that there is no causation between cancer rates and aspartame consumption. This same result was also found in the National Toxicology Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences stating that aspartame does not have any evidence of begin labeled a "carcinogen."

What Color Should You Choose?

Each colored packet is a different type of artificial sweetener: sugar, saccharin, aspartame. sucralose. Essentially, synthetic sweeteners are molecules that stick to certain parts of your taste buds, signaling your brain that you are tasting something “sweet”. The FDA has placed all common sweeteners in the “generally recognized as safe" category.

Saccharin (Pink): Studies in the 70's proved that rats given the substance developed bladder cancer. Movements were made in attempt to remove the sweetener from tables in restaurants, however, it remained, and the warning label was lifted in 2001 when testing proved that saccharin reacted differently in rats than humans. Although it is common knowledge now that the risk of cancer due to saccharine is low, people still avoid it. "Alissa Kaplan Michaels (a public relations consultant in New York) for one, never picks pink. She still associates saccharin with cancer." (Chang)

Aspartame (Blue): Sold primarily as Equal or NutraSweet, these two sweeteners have been known to cause headaches, neurological disorders and cancers, all of which are symptoms that are being overlooked by regulators. Aspartame contains a molecular supplement known as he methyl ester which turns into methanol in the body. Illnesses such as multiple sclerosis has been linked to low level methanol poisoning. Rats given aspartame during a study in Italy had higher rates of leukemia and lymphomas. Yet, The National Cancer Institute in Maryland found no correlation between aspartame-filled beverages and these types of cancer in half a million retirees.

Sucralose (Yellow): The dreaded Splenda starts out as sugar, but as it is digested, undergoes dramatic chemical changes. The sugar molecules are replaced with chlorine atoms, which essentially “camouflages” the sugar. The chlorine’s cover allows the sugar to pass through the body undigested. Hence, “zero calories”. There has been no apparent detection of cancers from sucralose.


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