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Low-calorie sweetener doesn’t seem to extend cancer risk in US adults



A recent study published within the journal Nutrients claims that intake of low-calorie sweeteners doesn’t increase the danger of cancer-related death. Nonetheless, it might increase the danger of obesity and diabetes.

Study: No Association between Low-Calorie Sweetener (LCS) Use and Overall Cancer Risk within the Nationally Representative Database within the US: Analyses of NHANES 1988–2018 Data and 2019 Public-Use Linked Mortality Files. Image Credit: Pheelings media/Shutterstock


Low-calorie sweetener (LCS) replaces added sugar in beverages and foods. It helps reduce calories from sugar while maintaining palatability. It has been estimated that about 42% of US adults eat LCS.

Relatively higher consumption of LCS has been observed amongst women and obese individuals.

Regarding possible health effects, studies have shown that LCS may increase the danger of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome by increasing response to sweet taste, impairing satiety and metabolism, or altering gut microbiota composition. Studies investigating the association between LCS use and cancer risk have demonstrated contrasting results.    

In the present study, scientists have explored the connection between LCS use and overall cancer risk in US adults.

Study design

The study evaluation was based on multiple cycles of the nationally-representative cross-sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for 1988– 1994 and 1999–2018. The dietary intake data obtained from the survey was linked with 2019 Public-Use Linked Mortality Files to explore the association between LCS use and cancer risk.

The dietary intake information was obtained from 15,948 US adults participating within the 1988–1994 NHANES and 47,854 US adults participating within the 1999–2018 NHANES. The dietary intake information of two LCS (aspartame and saccharine) was individually analyzed in 1988–1994 NHANES but not in 1999–2018 NHANES. 

Essential observations

The survey population included each female and male individuals aged above 19 years. The mean age of the participants was 46 years. About 70% of participants were non-Hispanic White. About 22% were smokers, 32% were obese, and 9% were diabetic.

The proportion of LCS consumers was higher amongst females, non-Hispanic White individuals, non-smokers, and individuals with higher income and academic backgrounds. An association was observed between LCS consumption, higher body mass index (BMI), and better prevalence of obesity and diabetes.

The likelihood of consuming a high-quality eating regimen was higher amongst LCS consumers. Specifically, LCS consumers were more prone to eat vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and dairy products and fewer prone to eat saturated fat and sodium. In comparison with non-consumers, LCS consumers had significantly lower intakes of added sugar and alcohol and better intakes of dietary fiber.

Impact of LCS use on cancer risk

The cancer mortality risk evaluation revealed that the intake of aspartame or saccharine doesn’t increase the danger of cancer-related death in adults, no matter age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, current smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical activity level, and BMI. 

Further evaluation revealed that saccharine intake might reduce cancer mortality risk in males aged 19 – 50 years. Furthermore, a better intake of LCS may reduce cancer risk in adults aged 19 – 50 years and above 51 years.

Overall, cancer mortality was found to positively correlate with age and current smoking status and negatively correlate with moderate or vigorous physical activity.

Study significance   

The study uses nationally representative surveys of the US population to display that intake of LCS doesn’t increase cancer mortality risk. Moreover, the study establishes a link between LCS intake and a better prevalence of obesity and diabetes.

As mentioned by the scientists, the dietary intake data utilized in the study relies on one or two 24-hour dietary recalls. Thus, the info is just not an excellent representative of habitual consumption, making it difficult to categorize LCS consumers and non-consumers accurately.

Furthermore, the mortality files utilized in the study provide only the general cancer mortality rate. Thus, the study couldn’t analyze the mortality risk of specific cancers, similar to breast or obesity-related cancers.

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