Cancerous Myth Debunked


I was taking a 'Cancer Causer: Fact or Myth?' quiz on WebMD during a break between class and had so far gotten all the questions right, so when I got 'Artificial sweeteners can cause cancer,' I was offended that they would ask me something that easy. Um, try of course? Everyone knows diet sodas basically cause death and destruction.

And then I saw this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 9.23.17 PM.png

Wait, what? So why is it that I and everyone I know thinks that they do?

Sugar sweeteners, especially aspartame have a notorious reputation for being cancer causing, but how and when exactly did that start? Well, according to this article Brigham and Women's Hospital (which is a part of Harvard) conducted a twenty-two year long study to test whether the prolonged drinking of diet sodas can lead to cancer. The control group consisted of people that drank non-artificially sweetened sodas. And while this was a large scale study, with 47,000 men and 77,000 women being tested.

The study showed that there was an increased risk of leukemia in both men and women. However an important point to consider would be: there was also an increased risk of cancer in the group that was drinking the non-artificially sweetened sodas. 

Considering the fact that there is a 1.65% chance that a man in the US will contract cancer and a 1.17% chance for a woman, wouldn't it be possible for the results to have been due to chance? Furthermore it could be the lifestyle of the test subjects or even the fact that they drank at least one diet soda a day. There are a multitude of third variables that could have caused the slight increase in number - all of that in addition to chance being the cause doesn't lead to a very convincing study. 

Not that the researchers claimed otherwise:

"Conclusion: Although our findings preserve the possibility of a detrimental effect of a constituent of diet soda, such as aspartame, on select cancers, the inconsistent sex effects and occurrence of an apparent cancer risk in individuals who consume regular soda do not permit the ruling out of chance as an explanation."


So why was the world in an uproar? Well as we discussed in class, the general public doesn't always understand science. While the article that Harvard published was meant to do nothing more than reveal their results to the rest of the scientific world and encourage them to go on with their research, the public saw it as a horrifying reality. Considering the fact that Americans consume about 43 billion cans of soda a year, an overreaction is understandable. On the other hand, some people believe that the determination 'inconclusive' results was propaganda on the side of the industries that use and produce aspartame.

"It's also widely known how massive industry and government collusion at the FDA was ultimately responsible for its approval after it failed to be approved for many years." 

- Dr. Mercola

So what do you think? Would you stop drinking/using diet products after reading the study? Do you think the results were falsified due to heavy industry pressure on labs or government officials?

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