Saccharin link to cancer discredited

Discovered in the US in 1879, saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener.

It is calorie-free and 300 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. Some people find it has a bitter or metallic aftertaste.

A wide variety of foods and drinks have saccharin added to them, including baked goods, chewing gum and table top sweeteners.

Saccharin is also used in cosmetic products (such as toothpaste, mouthwash and lip gloss), as well as vitamins and medications.

Saccharin is not broken down when digested. It is slowly absorbed into the system and rapidly excreted, unchanged, by the kidneys.

After being suspected of causing bladder cancer in rats, the Canadian government banned saccharin as a food additive in 1977 (although restricted access to saccharin as a table top sweetener was maintained). The US government also warned that it could cause cancer.

Since then, many studies have disproved any link to cancer.

The European Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) re-evaluated the safety of saccharin in 1995 (PDF, 29kb) and concluded that it did not pose a cancer risk to people. It stated: "While it is unlikely that the tumours in the male rat bladder are of relevance for man, it has not been possible to unequivocally demonstrate this".

After a complete evaluation of the evidence in 1999 (PDF, 378kb), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that saccharin could no longer be considered a possible carcinogen in people.

Canada lifted the ban on saccharin in 2014. Some health groups maintain that infants, children and pregnant women should avoid it due to the possibility of having an allergic reaction, although there is no evidence to back this up.

Acceptable daily intake: 5mg/kg body weight.

Find out what the latest scientific evidence says about these other common artificial sweeteners:

Read: The truth about sweeteners

Page last reviewed: 13/04/2016

Next review due: 13/04/2018

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