Kicking a sugar habit is hard, especially since we humans are hardwired to love the stuff. It doesn’t help that sugar is so prevalent in so many products.

Many wind up turning to artificial sweeteners to get the sweetness they crave minus the health risks that come from too much sugar (cavities and gum disease are just the start). But as we’ve seen before – here and here, for instance – they carry their own risks.

Over the years, one of the biggest concerns has been a suspected link between cancer and sugar substitutes such as aspartame. New research in PLOS Medicine only adds to the evidence.

For the study, researchers collected data from more than 100,000 French adult participants in an online research initiative called NutriNet-Santé, which has been collecting data since 2009. Among the things participants report are artificial sweetener intake and cancer diagnoses.

Analysis of the data showed that those who consumed more synthetic sweeteners had a higher risk for all types of cancer. The finding held up even after the research team adjusted for variables such as smoking, BMI, diabetes, and a family history of cancer.

The association was most pronounced for consumption of aspartame and Ace-K. Aspartame, for instance, was associated with a 22% higher risk of breast cancer and a 15% higher risk of obesity-related cancers – a type of cancer that, in fact, was higher for all use of synthetic sweeteners.

As with any study, this one has its limitations – perhaps especially the fact that it relied on self-reporting, which is notoriously problematic. People don’t always remember everything they eat or drink, or may not want to own up to having some items. So while this study can’t be taken as the final word on the subject, it does confirm earlier studies and offers even more motivation to ditch these synthetic sugar substitutes.

“Our findings do not support the use of artificial sweeteners as safe alternatives for sugar in foods or beverages and provide important and novel information to address the controversies about their potential adverse health effects,” wrote the authors, led by Charlotte Debras, a doctoral student from Sorbonne Paris Nord University and the French Network for Nutrition and Cancer Research….

The good news is that there are some alternatives to sugar that can deliver the sweetness without the kinds of health risks that chemical sweeteners carry. You can read about them in our previous post here.

 

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