Saccharin, once feared to cause cancer, is no longer believed to be carcinogenic. It does disrupt gut bacteria in rodents, however.
Saccharin - commonly known as Sweet N' Low - is an artificial sweetener that's long drawn controversy. The Canadian government banned it in in 1977 over a possible link to bladder cancer in rats. The FDA tried to do the same and was met with a public outcry. They put a moratorium on the ban until further research could be done. That moratorium is still in place, with saccharin in limbo.
Recently, however, regulatory agencies have backpedaled on the link between saccharin and bladder cancer. The European Food Safety authority took a second look in 1995 and rolled back their ban. The cancer arm of the World Health Organization followed suit in 1999. Until 2000, saccharin had to carry a warning label in the United States; that requirement has since been lifted. The EPA delisted it as a hazardous constituent in 2010. Canada fell in line as well, reversing their saccharin ban in 2014.
Some new research has indicated that saccharin may actually inhibit the growth of cancer cells. That's according to the findings of researchers at the University of Florida last year. The data here is very new, and nothing is conclusive so far, but the findings further muddied saccharin's former reputation as a carcinogen.
Saccharin appears to cause other problems - in rodents, at least. One study demonstrated a link with obesity; others have shown higher blood glucose and insulin resistance. Another study in Nature found that saccharin disrupted gut bacteria in mice. That pushed up glucose levels, with risk for diabetes following in turn. The human sample in the Nature study was very small - seven people - but showed the same result. Keep an eye on further research to reinforce or complicate the link between saccharin, blood glucose, and diabetes.
Is it healthy for pregnant women? That's a more difficult question. Saccharin can cross the human placenta. There's also evidence that it fetal metabolisms are slow at reducing it. Numerous studies, however, have failed to demonstrate that it results in malformed babies or is in any way linked to miscarriages. So far, the science seems to suggest that saccharin is safe for pregnant women, however, we still recommend avoiding it as it is simply not worth the risk.
Possible short-term side effects
- crosses the placenta in pregnant women
Possible long-term side effects
- disrupt gut bacteria
- insulin resistance