The use of food additives, to enhance taste, appearance, and in the preservation of food, has become a hot focus of research as people are trying to find the safest products with desired functions. One of the most important groups of food additives are artificial sweeteners used to replace sugar in food. Compounds like saccharin, aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame-K have a similar taste of sweetness as sugar, without adding extra calories.
Saccharin, the substance found in those pink packets of Sweet’N Low and Sugar Twin, is the first diabetic sugar replacement found. It is said to be about 200 to 700 times as sweet as sugar. However, the safety of ingesting saccharin is also one of the most controversial topics.
Since its discovery in 1879, saccharin has been a very successful product on the market. It is used on a massive scale in “diet” soft drinks, low-calorie and sugar-free products, and was thought to be non-problematic to health until studies done in the 1970s revealed a possible carcinogenic effect of saccharin. These studies were done on laboratory rats, and results showed that male rats fed with saccharin have higher incidences of developing bladder tumor. Though no definitive studies prove saccharin can cause cancer in humans, findings from these rat studies did lead to the banning of saccharin in Canada and the requirement of label warning by the FDA.
In 2000, saccharin was removed from the list of known carcinogens because some studies have found that tumor formation in rats does not follow the same biological process in humans, but even this does not exclude the possibility for long term cancer risks of saccharin ingestion.
Increased Risks during Pregnancy and Lactation
Like those studies done in relation to cancer risks, the question of whether it is safe for women to use saccharin during pregnancy is still unanswered. Based on studies done on rhesus monkeys, saccharin can pass readily through the placenta and can remain for a long time in tissues of the fetus. Saccharin is also secreted into breast milk and is transferred into babies during nursing.
Some research has linked the intake of saccharin during pregnancy and lactation to the development of irritability and muscle dysfunctions in infants. Therefore, if you are a pregnant or breast-feeding mother, you should take extra precaution to avoid saccharin so that your baby will not be subjected these harmful risks.
Higher Potential for Weight Gain
Though saccharin is non-nutritive and does not contribute to your total calorie intake, recent studies have associated the intake of saccharin to increases in body weight. The proposed mechanism is that saccharin alters your brain’s response to sweetness, inhibits its ability to regulate food intake, and causes you to overeat.
The FDA still approves saccharin as a safe product for human consumption because all negative evidences against saccharin are collected from animal data, but no one can conclusively guarantee its safety.