Replacing sugar with low-calorie sweetener does not increase overall cancer mortality risk, researchers have said.

However, consuming low-calorie sweetener (LCS) could increase the risk of developing diabetes or obesity, the findings have indicated. This is because LCS may increase a person’s response to sweet taste, which can impair satiety and metabolism. Researchers also think it may change gut microbiota composition.

Low-calorie sweetener is consumed by an estimated 42% of adults in America, with higher rates seen in women and those with obesity.

Data from just under 16,000 people from a 1988–1994 health and nutrition study was analysed, along with data from almost 47,900 people from the 1999–2018 version of the study.

Previous research has looked at the link between LCS consumption and the risk of cancer but has reported contrasting conclusions. In this particular study, the team set out to investigate the association between LCS consumption and overall cancer risk in American adults.

The analysis found that the consumption of LCS was higher among women, non-Hispanic White individuals, those who don’t smoke, and people with higher income and higher educational levels.

The team reported a link between the consumption of LCS, higher BMI and higher incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity. They also found it was associated with a higher level of better-quality diet, lower consumption of sugar and alcohol and more intake of fibre.

Crucially, the findings revealed that consumption of aspartame or saccharine does not increase cancer mortality risk in adults, regardless of age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, smoking status, alcohol consumption, exercise levels, and BMI.

The researchers highlighted that one of the limits of their study is that it is based on one or two 24-hour dietary reports, rather than regular, habitual intake. In addition, it only looks at overall cancer mortality rates rather than specific cancers.

Read the full study in the journal Nutrients.

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