The adverse health effects of excessive consumption of dietary sugars are now well known. To preserve the sweet taste of products while reducing the added sugar content, manufacturers make massive use of substances called sweeteners. Consumed daily by millions of people, these food additives are not harmless to health. This is what a recent French study suggests. It demonstrates that the consumption of sweeteners would be associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Sweeteners to replace sugar
As an integral part of our modern diet, sugar has seen its consumption constantly increasing for several decades. It is found in sugary drinks or ultra-processed foods. It must be said that sugar is particularly popular with manufacturers for its many advantages (texture, flavor, desire to refill). But, faced with the adverse health effects of excessive sugar consumption, the World Health Organization recommends limiting the consumption of sugars free to less than 10% of daily energy intake.
To know ! Free sugars refer to added sugars naturally present in fruit juices, syrups, honey.
As a result, to preserve the sweet taste of products, manufacturers use artificial substances called “sweeteners”. Present in many foods and light drinks, these food additives are consumed daily by millions of people. One of the best known remains aspartame whose energy value is similar to that of sugar (4 kcal/g) with a sweetening power 200 times higher. As for acesulfame-K and sucralose, respectively 200 and 600 times sweeter than sucrose, they contain no calories!
To know ! It happens that manufacturers also include artificial sweeteners in the composition of certain food products that traditionally do not contain added sugar (such as flavored crisps for example). The goal? Gain in flavor.
As interesting as they are to replace sugar, these food additives would not be so harmless for health.
Consumption of sweeteners: what impact on the risk of cancer?
Some food additives have already been the subject of several experimental studies attesting to their carcinogenicity. However, the link between the daily consumption of sweeteners and the occurrence of various diseases has never been documented..
Based on this observation, researchers have wished assess the overall cancer risk associated with the consumption of artificial sweeteners. Thus, they conducted an extensive analysis of the data. These data were collected as part of a digital public health study entitled NutriNet-Santé. In total, it includes 102,865 adults. The participants communicated a certain amount of information relating to their medical history, their physical activity, their lifestyle and their food consumption. They also sent detailed statements of the products they consumed. This made it possible to accurately assess their sweetener intake.
To know ! The NutriNet-Santé study is a participatory public health study aimed at advancing research on the links between nutrition and health. Launched in 2009, it has already given rise to more than 200 international scientific publications.
Scientists collected information related to cancer diagnosis for 12 years (from 2009 to 2021). The goal? To evaluate the link between the consumption of sweeteners and the risk of cancer. For this, they took into account confounding factors such as age, physical activity, smoking, etc.
A consumption far from harmless
The researchers observed that the highest consumers of sweeteners had a 13% increased risk of developing cancer. In particular, the risks of developing a breast cancer and cancers related toobesity being higher.
Published in the journal PLOS Medicinethese results suggest a clear association between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of cancer. Nevertheless, the authors agree that further research is still needed to confirm these findings.
Sweeteners are the subject of debate regarding their potential adverse health effects. These new results do not lean in favor of their use as a replacement for sugar. But for the study coordinator: “As always in nutrition, when you are in moderation, that is to say in small quantities and from time to time, there is no major health risk”. According to her, these important data will prove useful in the context of the current re-evaluation of sweeteners by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Case to follow!
Déborah L., Doctor of Pharmacy