Saccharin is an organic petroleum-based compound that is three to five
hundred times sweeter than sucrose. It is non-nutritive because the human
body is unable to metabolize the foreign chemical. Saccharin does not
contribute calories; for this reason it is commonly used in diet foods.
"The obese [feel] that saccharin is their lifeline to slimdom, and
diabetics [claim] it is essential to control their blood sugar" (Brody
482). The same people who consume saccharin certainly would not knowingly
eat something that is classified as toxic waste; however, they do it on a
daily basis. Saccharin's alias is EPA Hazardous Waste number U202. In
fact, workers who handle saccharin are cautioned, "EXERCISE DUE CARE.
AVOID CONTACT WITH EYES, SKIN, CLOTHING. WASH THOROUGHLY AFTER HANDLING.
IF SWALLOWED, IF CONCIOUS, IMMEDIATELY INDUCE VOMITING" (MSDS).
Saccharin has always been surrounded by controversy. As early as 1907,
the public was concerned over its safety and proposed banning it.
Theodore Roosevelt, a diabetic, fought the idea. He said, "My doctor
gives it to me every day...Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to
health is an idiot"(Corcoran 12). Saccharin survived the onslaught for
another forty years. It wasn't until the bittersweet chemical hit the
mainstream consumer market in such things as diet sodas, pharmaceuticals,
and chewing gum that it came under fire again. Scientists suggested that
saccharin might be a carcinogen in 1951. In 1958, however, saccharin was
added to the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list, another paradox.
In 1972, the results of a long-term study showed that rats fed saccharin
had developed bladder tumors. Subsequently, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) removed saccharin from GRAS status and issued a
regulation limiting the use of saccharin in foods. Then in 1974, a
National Academy of Science review found that, "Saccharin itself could not
be identified as the cause of the tumors because of possible impurities as
well as problems with experimental design and procedures" (Kennedy 131).
Therefore, the FDA decided not to ban saccharin until they received the
results of a study being conducted in Canada.
In March 1977, the Canadian study showed that feeding large doses of
saccharin to pregnant rats and their weanlings produced bladder cancers in
the male offspring. The Canadians immediately banned saccharin. When the
FDA announced its intentions to follow suit, public outcry led to a
Congressionally voted eighteen-month moratorium. The American people
wanted more time to evaluate the results of the study. Shortly
thereafter, Congress enacted the Saccharin Study and Labeling Act, which
stayed the FDA's hand temporarily and ordered a warning label on all
saccharin products: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health.
This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer
in laboratory animals" (Brody 482-483). Nonetheless, the moratorium has
continually been extended until the present day.
During 1978 and 1979, the National Cancer Institute and FDA conducted a
population-based study on the possible role of saccharin in causing
bladder cancer in humans. In general, people in the study who used an
artificial sweetener had no greater risk of bladder cancer than the
population as a whole. However, when only the data for heavy users was
examined, there was some suggestive evidence of an increased risk,
particularly in persons who consumed both diet drinks and sugar
substitutes and who used at least one of these two forms heavily
(Carcinogenicity). In the study, heavy use was defined as merely six or
more servings of sugar substitute or two or more 8-ounce servings of diet
drink daily. Consequently, several studies have found that people with
bladder cancer were more likely to have eaten food that contained
saccharin than were people who didn't have bladder cancer. The National
Cancer Institute compared the diets of 5,800 similar people who were
disease-free to the diets of 3,000 men and women with bladder cancer.
Those who reported consuming high levels of saccharin on a daily basis
were found to be at a higher risk for association to poorly differentiated
bladder tumors (Corcoran 13).
Saccharine is the most widely used sugar substitute in the world, and yet
we still do not fully understand its effects on the human body. Drinking
one can of diet soda per day can increase the risk of bladder cancer by
sixty percent (Goulhart). The fact that it has never been conclusively
proven to cause cancer in humans does not make saccharin safe. A dollar's
worth of saccharin will do the sweetening of twenty dollar's worth of
sugar; for this reason, the FDA will not decisively ban the chemical
sweetener. They are waiting for the results of the ultimate human test
that has been taking place since saccharine was invented in 1879.
Saccharine didn't become widely used until thirty years ago, and bladder
cancer takes decades to develop; the near future holds the definitive
answer about its safety. Safety aside, saccharine is also a top allergen,
causing everything from fatigue to nausea and disorientation. The bottom
line is that saccharine should be banned. Any food that requires a
warning label cannot be safe.
Beck, Karl M. "Saccharin." McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. 8th
Brody, Jane E. Jane Brody's Nutrition Book. New York: WW Norton, 1981: 482.
Corcoran, Leila, and Michael Jacobson. "Saccharin: Bittersweet." Nutrition Action
Health Letter April 1998: 11-13.
"Carcinogenicity of Saccharin in Laboratory Animals and Humans." CSPI Reports.
Online. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Available HTTP:
Goulhart, Frances S. Nutritional Self-Defense. New York: Dodd, 1984.
"MSDS for Saccharin Sodium." Material Safety Data Sheets. Online. University of Utah.
Available HTTP: http://www.chem.utah.edu/MSDS/S/SACCHARIN_SODIUM.