Salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners and cancer

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The link between salt and sugar and cancer is not wholly proven yet but many nutritionalists have their deep suspicions. Certainly foods packed with added salts or sugar are likely to be heavily processes and contain more fats and carcinogens. Notwithstanding the risk for high blood pressure and diabetes there may therefore be an indirect link with cancer.

Refined sugars have had its, fibre, proteins, vitamins and minerals removed so they are rapidly absorbed in the body producing a sugar rush. The pancreas interprets this as a big meal and responds by pumping insulin into the blood stream. Very shortly the sugar levels drop drastically leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) causing dissyness, hunger & tiredness, only satisfied by eating more food and particularly if sugary will lead to a repeat cycle. Overall refined sugars lead to higher insulin levels which has been shown encourage cancer progression. They also lead to eating more and obesity which is also harmful. On the other hand, sugars contained in natural whole foods are absorbed slower and metabolised in a controlled pathway and do not produce this roller coaster high & low sugar ride. Studies have also found that sucrose cannot metabolise completely in our bodies, resulting in the formation of metabolites, such as pyruvic acid and unstable sugars containing five carbon atoms. These toxic by-products have been linked to lowering the vitamin E levels and the formation of free radicals or oxidative metabolites. There have also been anecdotal reports that sugar excess also results in sub clinical damage to the non insulin secreting part of the pancreas. This can impair the production of enzymes such as trypsin and chymotrysin, linked to the weakening of the healing processes and immune attack against cancer.

Artificial sweeteners and their their influence on cancer has been the subject of much debate. These sugar substitutes are substances that are used instead of sucrose (table sugar) to sweeten foods and beverages. Questions about artificial sweeteners and cancer arose when early studies showed that a type now not currently used called cyclamate in combination with saccharin caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals. However, results from subsequent carcinogenicity studies (studies that examine whether a substance can cause cancer) on these sweeteners and other approved sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association between artificial sweeteners and cancer in people. Subsequent studies in rats showed an increased incidence of bladder cancer at high doses of saccharin consumption, especially in male rats. However, mechanistic studies (studies that examine how a substance works in the body) have shown that these results apply only to rats. In human studies of patterns, causes, and control of diseases in groups of people have shown no consistent evidence that saccharin is associated with bladder cancer incidence.

Aspartame, distributed under several trade names (e.g., Nutrasweet and Equal), was approved in 1981 by the US Food and Drug Association after numerous tests showed that it did not cause cancer or other adverse effects in laboratory animals. Questions regarding the safety of aspartame were renewed by a 1996 report suggesting that an increase in the number of people with brain tumours between 1975 and 1992 might be associated with the introduction and use of this sweetener in the United States. However, analysis of current statistics showed that the overall incidence of brain tumours began to rise in 1973, 8 years prior to the approval of aspartame, and continued to rise until 1985. Moreover, increases in overall brain cancer incidence occurred primarily in people age 70 and older, a group that was not exposed to the highest doses of aspartame since its introduction. These data suggest there is no link between the consumption of aspartame and the development of brain tumors.

Likewise, an early laboratory experiment found more lymphomas and leaukaemias in rats fed very high doses of aspartame (equivalent to drinking  to 2,083 cans of diet soda daily). However, there were some inconsistencies in the findings. Subsequently, the National Cancer Institute of the USA examined human data from the largest Dietary and Health Study involving of over half a million retirees. Increased consumption of aspartame-containing beverages was not associated with the development of lymphoma, leukemia, or brain cancer.

In addition to saccharin and aspartame, there are three other artificial sweeteners currently permitted for use in food in the United States. Acesulfame potassium (also known as ACK, Sweet One, and Sunett) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1988 for use in specific food and beverage categories, and was later approved as a general purpose sweetener (except in meat and poultry) in 2002. Sucralose (also known as Splenda) was approved by the FDA as a tabletop sweetener in 1998, followed by approval as a general purpose sweetener in 1999. Neotame, which is similar to aspartame, was approved by the FDA as a general purpose sweetener (except in meat and poultry) in 2002. Before approving these sweeteners, the FDA reviewed more than 100 safety studies that were conducted on each sweetener, including studies to assess cancer risk.

The results of these studies showed no evidence that these sweeteners cause cancer or pose any other threat to human health.

Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.

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