Artificial Sweeteners: Are They Dangerous?

A vast majority of people in this world have an addiction to sweets and sugary substances. Consequently, these sugars are not the most nutritious and are a large reason many people around the world struggle with obesity. That is where artificial sweeteners step into place. Anytime someone picks up a food or beverage labeled ‘Sugar Free’ or ‘Diet’, there is a good chance that food was sweetened with an artificial sweetener. Artificial sweeteners are typically much sweeter than regular sugar and most do not contain a single calorie.

This makes it both appealing to those with a sweet tooth and those who are health conscious. The real question is, are they safe? Artificial sweeteners both come naturally and synthetically, but can put something synthetic into your body cause any major health risks, such as cancer? I want to dive into this question and figure out if consumed artificial sweeteners can cause any major health risks or if they are beneficial to one’s health.

In order to try and answer this question, I first need to understand what exactly is an artificial sweetener.

An artificial sweetener is defined as “an additive that provides the sweet taste of sugar, but has fewer calories” (Duverge). This can be seen as a positive for many, since sugar generally has a lot of calories and an artificial sweetener has none. In fact, “one teaspoon of sugar (4.2 grams) has 16 calories” and at first glance, this does not seem like much, but it is noted that “One can of soda contains 132.

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5 calories from added sugar. A milk chocolate candy bar has 77.5 calories, and one doughnut has 74.2 calories just from sugar” (Duverge). The foods, many people enjoy, are generally high in calories due to the sugar. This is why many companies use artificial sweeteners; to lower the calories in food and beverages, but also keeps them tasting sweet.

One of the first artificial sweeteners ever produced was Saccharin. Saccharin is noted to be “300 times sweeter than sugar” and became popular during World War I sugar shortages (Duverge). Saccharin is more popularly known as coming in a little pink packet called Sweet’N Low. Another popular artificial sweetener is aspartame. Aspartame is “180 times sweeter than sugar” and goes by the brand names NutraSweet and Equal (Duverge). The most popular and the newest artificial sweetener discovered is Sucralose. Sucralose is most commonly known as Splenda and is “600 times sweeter than sugar” (Duverge). These three sweeteners are the most popular and also the most controversial. Each one is significantly sweeter than sugar and all have had negative claims associated with them. Whether these claims are true or not, is what I plan to discover.

The first artificial sweetener ever discovered was Saccharin. Saccharin was discovered by a chemist at John Hopkins University in 1897, when he noticed something sweet on his hands after working with various chemicals (Corcoran). This then leads to the beginning of the artificial sweetener revolution. Saccharin was first put into the diet drink Tab in the 1960’s and was thought to be carcinogenic as early as the 1950’s (Corcoran). In the 1970’s Saccharin was publicly known to cause bladder cancer in rats and this caused a Saccharin ban by the United States Food and Drug Administration (Corcoran). It was then that people began to worry about artificial sweeteners and the danger they may cause to their bodies. If they caused cancer in rats, could they cause cancer in humans?

After male rats were fed sodium saccharin, they began to develop tumors throughout their bladders (Corcoran). These tumors were then found to be carcinogenic, but said that the bladder cancer in rats would not translate to bladder cancer in humans (Corcoran). This sparked lots of controversy, since what happened to an animal’s body was assumed to also happen in a human body. Not only were tumors just found in male rat bladders, but also in their lungs and other organs (Corcoran). So far, there had only been animal studies done and people wanted a study done on humans. The National Cancer Institute conducted a study comparing “diets of 3,000 men and women with bladder cancer to the diets of 5,800 similar people who were disease free” (Corcoran). This study was said to not be done perfectly, but found that “those who reported consuming three or more servings of sugar substitutes had a 60 percent higher risk of bladder cancer” (Corcoran). While this study could not strictly say that saccharin was the main cause of bladder cancer, it is the most striking evidence they could find. Overall, the artificial sweetener Saccharin can not be linked to cancer, but many still argue that it cannot be entirely deemed as safe. Aspartame is the next artificial sweetener also claimed to be harmful to the body.

Aspartame is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners in the world. It was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1981 and is found in things like food, all the way to pharmaceuticals (Mallikarjun). Over 200 million people use aspartame on a regular basis and even accounts for “62% of the artificial sweetener market” (Mallikarjun). This being said, aspartame is widely popular and many people consume it; but is there a risk of consuming such a foreign substance? Like saccharin, a study was done on rats to try and identify if aspartame was carcinogenic. A 2005 study found that there was an “increased risk of lymphomas and leukemias in rats” (Stanner). This being said, rats were the only source affected by aspartame. According to the World Health Organization “carcinogenic bioassay findings in rodents are valid predictors of carcinogenic risks in humans” (Mallikarjun). This means if the rats were subject to obtaining cancer, then humans would also be more likely to contract cancer from aspartame.

Although, there has been no conclusive studies done on humans and the risks of contracting cancer from aspartame; the evidence found in rats is still frightening to many people. Other than being possibly carcinogenic, there are some less severe side effects associated with aspartame. Chewing gum with aspartame or sucralose can trigger a migraine to occur in humans (Gupta et al). Also, a rare effect of aspartame is that it can “present a possible health risk to those with the rare genetic disorder phenylketonuria, which occurs in 1 in 15,000 births in this country” (Lampert). The overall dangers of aspartame are not very large and are very much nonexistent. Sucralose is another artificial sweetener often times associated with cancer and possible harmful health effects.

Sucralose is another, newer artificial sweetener commonly referred to as Splenda. Sucralose was discovered in 1976 and was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2006 (Duverge). This is the newest of the artificial sweeteners, so not much is known about the dangers or effects they may cause. What we know about Sucralose is that it does not promote tooth decay and is made with three chlorine atoms (Is Splenda). We also know that “sucralose alters the gut microbiome by decreasing beneficial bacteria by up to 50%” (Leomo). This is a negative effect of sucralose, since your body needs this beneficial bacteria to help it function properly. Even twelve weeks after consuming the sucralose, the beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract had not recovered; meaning sucralose negatively affects the body weeks after consumption (Lenomo). Another downside of Sucralose is that it releases chloropropane once it is heated to a certain high temperature (Lenomo). This may not seem like a large problem at first, but chloropropane is toxic to humans. In fact, “Chloropropanols are toxic and may lead to cancer and infertility in men” (Lenomo). Sucralose may be a fairly new artificial sweetener, but the harmful side effects it may cause have recently been brought to life.

Saccharin, Aspartame, and Sucralose are the top three most popular artificial sweeteners out there, but there is a lot to be said about the general idea of artificial sweeteners. Often times, people trying to lose weight rely on artificial sweeteners to substitute normal sugar for a calorie free replacement. This being said, ingestion of these sweeteners then leads to “over compensation for the expected caloric reduction, thereby promotes energy intake and contributes to obesity,” (Gupta et al). These sweeteners seem to be doing the exact opposite of what they are claimed to help with. According to the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, there is a “greater risk of select incident metabolic syndrome components and type 2 diabetes,” if an individual consumes a high amount of artificially sweetened drinks (Gupta et al). This is controversial, since many artificially sweetened drinks have been associated with weight loss and safe for diabetic consumption. Consuming these artificially sweetened drinks or foods can also put you at a higher risk of getting a migraine. Reading all these frightening facts seems very off putting and proves that artificial sweeteners may not be as safe as people claim for them to be. Although they may seem to more harm than good, artificial sweeteners can also help various types of people.

Artificial sweeteners are often times seen as very negative and cause more harm than good. After I examined all the negative effects on artificial sweeteners to the body, I wanted to see if there were a positive to consuming them. I learned that they have very few positives, but they can be beneficial to certain groups of people. For example, artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than average sugar and can actually keep you from getting a cavity. Since they are “not fermentable,” you cannot get a cavity from consuming artificial sweeteners (Gupta et al). This is why many would rather chew gum or consume a drink sweetened artificially than sweetened with natural sugars. This can really help people who are prone to cavities, but also have s sweet tooth. Artificial sweeteners may not be one hundred percent bad, but the negatives seem to outweigh the positives.

Whether you are consuming a Diet Coke sweetened with aspartame or brushing your teeth with a saccharin sweetened toothpaste, it is safe to say that the safety of artificial sweeteners are uncertain. Although they may be carcinogenic to mice, no study has proven that they are carcinogenic in humans. After my research, I have realized that not much is known about artificial sweeteners safety. Therefore, I can not firmly say whether or not they are safe for human consumption. As a whole, artificial sweeteners seem to have more negative effects on the human body than a positive ones. A possible chance of contracting cancer, increased migraines, decreased gut bacteria, and a higher chance of contracting type 2 diabetes, does not seem like a safe substance to consume. Although they may help decrease cavities in people, this is not a strong enough positive to outweigh the negatives. Overall, the safety of an artificial sweetener is up to the consumer and since most artificial sweeteners are approved by the FDA, many people choose to consume them. I hope to see more research done in the field of artificial sweeteners and whether or not they truly are safe for human consumption.

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Artificial Sweeteners: Are They Dangerous?. (2022, Apr 21). Retrieved from

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