Doesn’t Saccharin Cause Cancer?

I know I am recommending an “artificial sweetener” most people think causes cancer, but saccharin is the safest of the “traditional” artificial choices and is actually one of the safest alternative sweeteners to use (if you insist on tearing open a colored packet, that is). Natural sugars such as Sucanat® and stevia are preferable over saccharin of course, but saccharin has less harmful side effects than the more modern artificial sweeteners (especially for the diabetic) and is readily available.

I consider the original saccharin a natural alternative, not a chemical one. Advertisers have painted a very different picture of saccharin over the past twenty years, though, and the politics behind “sodium saccharide” has left it with a bum rap.

Saccharin is actually a natural plant sugar derivative, and back in the day when saccharin was “accidentally” discovered, it was considered an authentic sugar substitute because it was the only known alternative to traditional sugar.

Unfortunately, today saccharin’s molecules have been reproduced in the laboratory and the pink packet is filled with anti-caking agents and emulsifiers. Saccharin is no longer sourced to its origin, but is still the most natural choice of the “colorful paper packets.” (Choose the pink packets—even if they have different brand names.)

The history of saccharin tells the story of its safety. In 1879, Constantine Fahlberg discovered the sweetness of saccharin by accident. While working on plant studies in the lab, he spilled some chemicals on his hand. Later while eating dinner, he noticed more sweetness in his bread. He traced the sweetness back to the spilled chemical, which he later named saccharin—a spin-off of saccharide (complex sugar).

Saccharin was labeled a carcinogen in the 1960s. It appears saccharin was sacrificed to make room in the market for a new more profitable sweetener, NutraSweet/Equal.

In 1902, Monsanto Chemical Company gained its reputation by manufacturing saccharin, the company’s first product. From 1903 through 1905, their entire saccharin output was shipped to the growing, new soft drink company in Georgia named The Coca-Cola Company®.

According to Monsanto’s company history, the U.S. government filed suit over the safety of saccharin at Monsanto's request in 1917. Monsanto used the suit as a test case for safety, and the suit was dismissed in 1925. This gave saccharin much-needed government approval for safety early on.

Then, curiously, in 1969 saccharin was suddenly questioned as a carcinogen—out of the blue. No reputable scientific proof was ever presented. Note: this was the year NutraSweet applied for their first patent.

Something most people never realized is the toxicity study was actually done using a blend of cyclamate and saccharin, and the results were “interpreted” as linking cyclamate—not saccharin—to bladder cancer in rats. Researchers fed laboratory mice sweetened water that was equivalent to 800 cans of saccharin/cyclamate every day from birth until death. In this one test, one mouse developed bladder cancer, and the results were submitted to the FDA requesting a cancer warning be placed on all saccharin products. Cyclamate was banned in 1970. No further testing was performed. And why didn’t the manufacturer of saccharin fight back? Read on…

Eight years after the “saccharin/cancer” scare, G.D. Searle & Co. (the original NutraSweet manufacturer) finally secured FDA approval for NutraSweet. Searle purchased Monsanto Chemical Company, the original saccharin manufacturer. Soon, Monsanto Chemical owned both NutraSweet and saccharin, NutraSweet's only competitor. The FDA finally (at this time) printed cancer warnings on saccharin packets the year NutraSweet came onto the market. So, it appears saccharin’s manufacturer didn’t fight back because both saccharin and aspartame were now owned and marketed by the same company- Monsanto.

Monsanto sold The NutraSweet Company in 2000. In 2001, the cancer warning was removed from saccharin products. Saccharin is now deemed safe for human consumption—once again.

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