Artificial sweeteners are linked with cancer, right? Turns out, it's not quite that cut and dry.
Most of the research into the sweetener-cancer connection is old and underwhelming. For example, a meta-analysis of 50 studies examining the link between saccharin and cancer in rats found that only one of the 50 studies yielded a connection between the chemical and bladder cancer -- and that was in a type of rat that is prone to a bladder parasite that makes cancer more likely anyway, according to a recent New York Times article.
While a 1996 survey study published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology linked brain tumors and aspartame, most of the study's subjects were over 70 when diagnosed, meaning they couldn't be the main consumers of aspartame. The sweetener was approved for use in 1981 when these patients were already well into middle age.
At the end of the day, there's very little evidence to back up the theory that artificial sweeteners cause cancer. That's why it's so frustrating, from a research perspective, when consumers choose regular cans of soda over the diet stuff. Let's be clear: Water or seltzer are the best choices. But when it comes to soda, the full-sugar stuff is known to be problematic.
Of course, there are other reasons to not drink diet soda that have nothing to do with cancer risk. Aside from having no nutritional value, the sweetness of diet soda may confuse the brain into thinking it's consuming calories and has been linked to greater calorie consumption.
"If you're consuming beverages without calories and [you're] not getting fullness from sugar-sweetened beverages, you could be priming the brain to want to eat more," Nicole Avena, an assistant professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Florida previously told The Huffington Post. "That’s one of the limitations of artificial sweeteners: In the long term, it could stimulate appetite... Over time, it's not helping the brain get over wanting sugar."
It's all a long-winded way of saying: Just drink water, okay?
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