Saccharin: It’s back. Is it safe?
in our snacks. Is it safe?
It has been forty-five years since saccharin was removed from the Canadian market simply based on the evidence of one very poorly done study. The people at Health Canada fed rats three per cent of their total diet in saccharin from birth and continued to do that for 8 to 12 weeks in most cases. The majority of rats in a very short time developed cancerous tumours in their bladders. However, in the United States even though they accepted our study, further studies on their own made them change their position. In fact, since saccharin was removed from the market in both countries, the number of cases of human bladder cancer was the same, not up or down. In 2001 the U.S. declared saccharin safe for human consumption.
So last month, Health Canada in their infinite wisdom, decided to permit the sweetener in gum, pop and other non-alcoholic beverages, frozen desserts, alcoholic liqueurs, fruit spreads and other products. What an ironic coincidence just as we have been seeing more studies that show the health risks of consuming too much sugar.
Many of you may remember the controversial studies in the seventies that caused many countries to ban saccharin as a food additive but in Canada and the United States you could buy it in a shaker only at a pharmacy as long as it carried a warning label.
Saccharin has actually been around since the 1800’s and became a popular alternative to sugar throughout the 20th century because it was less expensive and had no calories. Since it was taken off the market we have had aspartame, sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium (Sweet One) to fill the artificial sweetener void.
However, as soon as the research showed the saccharin may cause bladder cancer it was done. Subsequent research has shown that the mechanism that causes bladder cancer in rats is not applicable to humans. Saccharin does not bind to human DNA and therefore cannot damage DNA and cause any type of cancer in a human being.
When the United States Food and Drug reinstated saccharin as safe, the United States Environmental Protection Agency also took it off its list of hazardous chemicals. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization also downgraded saccharin to the level of non-carcinogenic to humans.
In spite of all the facts and all those agencies, Canada stubbornly remained one of the last holdouts for removing the ban on saccharin. But in 2007, Health Canada began formal discussions about saccharin based on what the rest of the world was doing. Not only that, in spite of that one ridiculous study, saccharin had a great track record since the 1800’s which is much more than you can say for sucralose, aspartame and the others. So finally in March of this year they made the decision to allow Canadian consumers to have this sweetener in their snacks. At least it’s a name we can recognize rather than all the other chemical names that are used for sugar substitutes.
Of course there will always be detractors even though all the evidence of harm has been proven to be false. Lisa Leferts, a senior scientist with the Washington-based Centre for Science in the Public Interest feels that although the mechanism that causes bladder cancer in rats does not apply to humans, anything that causes cancer in lab animals should be banned. And I am sure that once it is on the market, Dr. Mercola and his dedicated band of followers will jump on this one as another poison.
The truth about artificial sweeteners
The debate over the safety of artificial sweeteners misses the main point. They do you no good and we consume too much of them.
Artificial sweeteners are attractive because they allow people to eat and drink sweet treats without the caloric guilt. For diabetics, they can eat foods that otherwise would be strictly off limits to them. Many people think they can eat more bad food as long as they wash it down with a diet drink. I had an uncle who would order a pizza with double cheese and everything imaginable you could put on that pie and then ask for a diet Coke feeling that offset his indulgence. He died in his mid-sixties of complications caused by his severe Type 2 diabetes.
The truth is that if you eat foods that are artificially sweetened, you will actually be driven to eat more food. The reason is that these foods taste as if they contain sugar but strongly disappoint your body because of a lack of calories. At least if you eat a food with sugar you will get the calories and feel full from the snack. However, with the artificial sweetener, you get nothing but the desire to eat more. The sweetness of the artificially flavoured product fools your body into a demand mode that you cannot ignore. Your body thought it was getting sugar and now your brain is going to insist.
The bottom line is to try and live without sweetening your food. That means cutting down on both sugar and artificial sweeteners. Slowly your body will adjust to the change and the craving for sweets will gradually diminish.
A diet full of artificial sweeteners will only increase your waistline, not decrease it.