Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Breaking news: A HUGE study, published in March 2022, showed that people who consumed high amounts of aspartame were associated with a 22% higher risk of developing breast cancer and 15% higher risk of developing obesity-related cancers. Other sweeteners that were included in the study were sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium, though 58% of the participants consumed aspartame.

The cohort study was initiated in France in 2009, and looked at the diet of 102,685 people. It’s important to note that almost all of the participants consumed less than the government-recommended allowable daily intake… so it’s not like they were consuming it all day long, all the time. Even a small amount seemed to make a difference in health outcomes.

Artificial sweeteners can be found in:

  • Gum
  • Diet drinks
  • Light yogurt
  • Pedialyte
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Whole wheat bread and English muffins
  • “Carb balance” tortillas
  • Some protein powders and health bars (including Pure Protein and Quest)
  • Sugar free candy
  • Sugar free coffee syrups
  • Energy drinks
  • Sugar free ice cream and other desserts

Aspartame has long been linked to tumors in mice, but other artificial sweeteners (including Splenda/sucralose) are also linked to depression, anxiety, ADHD, cognitive decline, insulin resistance, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and microbial imbalances (which affect everything else).

My take? I have always found it interesting that the ingredient promoted to support weight loss and create blood sugar stability is doing the exact opposite. I am not surprised by the cancer study, as the original studies on aspartame and tumors are sketchy to say the least.

What I am most surprised by is that in spite of all this new evidence, food companies won’t make changes and neither will consumers. Is it because the knowledge isn’t widespread? Is it because nobody is sounding the alarm? Is it marketing? Is it convenience for the consumer? Placebo effect of the diet foods?

I consumed artificial sweeteners from my middle school days up until my early 30s. Whether it was sugar free syrup on waffles, light yogurt, diet soda, reduced calorie bread, or the sugar free syrups in coffee drinks… I consumed them all. I had a raging sweet tooth and somehow thought these would help me tamper it. Ironically, it never happened until I quit the sweetened everything and focused on whole food. If I have sugar now, it isn’t a problem for me. I have my small amount and move on with my day. There isn’t the insatiable need for it like it used to be. I believe part of this is due to the cephalic phase insulin response caused by the chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners and real sugar all day long.

The cephalic phase insulin response occurs when something sweet is seen, smelled, or tasted… whether it’s real sugar or artificial sugar. Your body interprets it as something sweet and causes an insulin release to support the prediction of sweet food. It’s actually pretty amazing! But because of this, it can lead to increased hunger and overeating. It sets your body up to hop on that blood sugar roller coaster, going up with the ingestion of sweet, then crashing soon after, then needing another quick hit to ride high for a while.

Side note: It’s no surprise that aspartame use is linked to anxiety, seeing that so often dysregulated blood sugar is mistaken for anxiety and panic attacks.

In light of all this information, what’s the best way to wean off the sweeteners and restore taste buds and blood sugar?

  1. Add in more whole food sources. Think about adding starchy veggies like carrots about sweet potatoes. Start consuming more fiber from vegetable sources, and maybe sprinkling ground flax seeds and chia seeds into meals as well. This helps support stable blood sugar, keeps you fuller longer, and can start to keep the cravings down.
  2. Add in probiotics. This is still being researched, but because so many artificial sweeteners and processed products cause imbalances in the gut microbiome, probiotics can help restore the healthy flora and even start healing gut mucosa. The one that was transformational for my health is called Probio5, and you can find it at my link here.
  3. Load up on protein. By protein, I’m talking about quality animal products. It’s the most satiating macronutrient and because protein plays such an important role in neurotransmitter conversion, we may not crave carbs and sugar due to low serotonin/low mood.
  4. Find a support system. Nope, I’m not talking about your friend who is selling those processed diet products. I’m talking about finding someone who specializes in functional medicine or integrative health, who can really look at the root cause of WHY you are hooked on sugar to begin with. Is it physiological? A nutrient deficiency? Or is there an emotional aspect you haven’t connected yet. These are things I work on with my clients. Sometimes we just need someone else to hold us accountable!

My online coaching group, Feast 2 Fast, starts back up the first week of May. Through that program, we will be resetting our taste buds through whole food, as well as discussing healthy blood sugar regulation AND how our spiritual health trumps all! Contact me if you’re interested in signing up. I’d love to support you on your journey to quitting fake sweeteners!

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