Are diet drinks safe? Do artificial sweeteners really cause cancer?

Posted on January 9, 2013

(Last Updated On: April 11, 2016)

This is part of a series. Part 1 here, part 2 here, you’re reading part 3and the series in its entirety is here. 

This is covered pretty extensively elsewhere so I’m not going to go into as much detail as the previous sections.

First, I’ve heard / read often “Artificial sweeteners are toxins, thus they are bad.” Well, alcohol is toxic, and it’s been found to be quite healthythere goes that logic.

Second, and this is how this section really boils down: Artificial sweeteners have been found to cause cancer under two conditions, 1) In studies using rats and 2) Using extremely high dosages in those rats.

Of course, people like Dr. Mercola, aka Dr. Lunatic, completely gloss over these factors. I’m going to go into detail on one study to illustrate and leave it at that.

First Experimental Demonstration of the Multipotential Carcinogenic Effects of Aspartame Administered in the Feed to Sprague-Dawley Rats

Notice the word “Rats” in the title.

A quote:

“Through dietary surveys performed in the United States among aspartame (APM) consumers during the period 1984–1992, the average APM daily intake in the general population has been shown to range from 2 to 3 mg/kg body weight”

(Yes, I’m well aware this data is old. The recency of the data is irrelevant to my following point.)

So, I’m 90 kg, then,

Between 2 and 3 mg / kg * 90 kg = Between 180 and 270 mg of aspartame

There are 180 mg of aspartame in a Diet Coke,

Between 180 and 270 / 180 = Between 1 and 1.5 can(s) of Diet Coke per day. This is the average intake of aspartame per day. 

We’ll come back to this.

Results of the study (bolding mine):

a) an increased incidence of malignant-tumor–bearing animals with a positive significant trend in males and in females, particularly in the females treated at 50,000 ppmb) a statistically significant dose-related increase of the incidence of lymphomas/leukemias in females treated at the doses of 100,000, 50,000, 10,000, 2,000, or 400 ppm and a positive significant trend in both males and females; c) in females, dysplastic lesions and carcinomas of the renal pelvis and ureter combined show a significant positive trend and a statistically significant increase in those treated at 100,000, 50,000, 10,000, 2,000, or 400 ppm

In this study ppm (parts per million) correlated to mg / kg in the following ways:

100,000 ppm = 5,000 mg / kg

50,000 ppm = 2,500 mg / kg

10,000 ppm = 500 mg / kg

2,000 ppm = 100 mg / kg

400 ppm = 20 mg / kg

80 ppm = 4 mg / kg

Remember the average intake from above? 2-3 mg/kg? Notice how the lowest dosage in this study is still above the average person’s consumption???

Next, I am 90 kg, so:

5,000 mg / kg * 90 kg = 450,000 mg of aspartame

2,500 mg / kg * 90 kg = 225,000 mg of aspartame

500 mg / kg * 90 kg = 45,000 mg of aspartame

100 mg / kg * 90 kg = 9,000 mg of aspartame

20 mg / kg *90 kg = 1,800 mg of aspartame

4 mg / kg * 90 kg = 360 mg of aspartame

Next, there are 180 mg of aspartame in a Diet Coke, so,

450,000 / 180 = 2,500 cans of Diet Coke

225,000 / 180 =1,250 cans of Diet Coke

45,000/ 180 = 250 cans of Diet Coke

9,000 / 180 =50 cans of Diet Coke

1,800 / 180 =10 cans of Diet Coke

360 / 180 =2 cans of Diet Coke

This is amount of Diet Cokes PER DAY. Most of these dosages are impossible for a person to consume. You think the cinnamon challenge is tough? Please, that shit is weak. Try a 1,000 cans of diet soda per day.



Study’s conclusion:

“Our study shows that aspartame is a multi-potential carcinogenic compound whose carcinogenic effects are evident even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg bw”

In layman’s terms, “Drinking more than 10 cans of Diet Coke a day, everyday, for your entire life, which is 10 times the average amount, may be bad for you.”

I’ve never come across someone who drinks that much of anything except for alcohol or coffee. If you’re out there, then “Hey, 10 cans a day is bad.” Which I’m sure you really needed someone to tell you.

The authors make a fair point this recommendation is lower than current FDA standards, but again, if you need someone to tell you 10 cans of diet soda a day isn’t a good idea you probably have a lot of other issues needing resolution too.

And again, this was done on rats. Don’t forget that. We’re still just guessing for humans.

One of my favorite defenses of studies like this is, “Well, it would be unethical to try and cause cancer in humans, so we have to do these things on rats. It doesn’t mean they aren’t carcinogenic though.”

To which I reply, “Yes, trying to cause cancer in humans is unethical. You know what else force feeding a human 20 cans of soda a day is called? Fucking stupid. I don’t need a study to tell me my stomach feeling like it’s bleeding isn’t good.”

Summarizing everything (finally)

If you don’t have issues with soda / sugary beverages, there is no reason to start consuming artificially sweetened beverages. I suppose you could make the argument if you’re someone who gets sugar / sweet cravings artificially flavored drinks could possibly curb these cravings, although I tend to go with other modalities. (Eating fruit for a sugar craving for example.)

Next, if you’re someone who has issues with soda then switching to diet options is a more than reasonable alternative. Just don’t go out of your mind. The biggest caveat here is to understand when switching to a diet option to be hyperaware you don’t make up for this change by eating more of other foods.

Finally, if you’re someone who has issues with drinking too much sugar and artificially sweetened drinks keeps this in check, thus helping you to lose weight, it’s pretty damn easy to make the argument for you, in your particular situation, consuming artificial sweeteners is actually healthy. And something you probably should do.


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