It’s not often that we can publicly state that the FDA should be praised for one of its decisions.
However, thirty years ago there was at least one victory for Americans at the behest of the FDA Commissioner who denied the petition to approve the toxic sweetener sodium cyclamate. Canadians weren’t so lucky, but Americans should not let down their guard as the sweetener may soon be reinstated.
The decision made by the former FDA Commissioner, Jere Goyan in 1980 upheld a ban set 11 years earlier that kept sodium cyclamate out of the country. Granted, there have been many other toxic sweeteners introduced in the U.S. since, but at least sodium cyclamate is not one of them.
Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturer, has filed a petition to reinstate cyclamate in the United States. The petition is now held in abeyance. It is unclear whether this is at the request of Abbott Labs or because the petition is considered to be insufficient by the FDA.
Sodium cyclamate, often simply called cyclamate is an artificial sweetener 30-50 times sweeter than sugar. A far cry from Neotame’s latest claim to famewhich boasts 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Nevertheless, cyclamate is indeed toxic.
It is approved as a sweetener in over 55 other countries including the UK, Switzerland (Assugrin brand), Brazil (Assugrin brand), Bulgaria (Suitli brand), Argentina (Chuker brand), Russia (Novasweet brand) and Canada (Sugar Twin and Sweet’N Low).
In Taipei, Taiwan, a city health survey in 2010 found nearly 30% of tested dried fruit products failed a health standards test, most having excessive amounts of cyclamate, some at levels 20 times higher than the legal limit.
In the Philippines, cyclamate (commonly called Magic Sugar) has been banned. It was most notoriously used in drinks sold by street vendors.
Besides a general sweetener it is also used in:
- energy drinks, coffee, fruit juices, flavored water, cars, almond tea, black tea, soybean milk, canned food, jams, jellies, pickles, ketchup and feed.
- seasoning and cooking
- cosmetics, syrup, icing, toothpaste, mouthwash, lipstick and many other consumer products.
The patent for cyclamate was purchased by DuPont but later sold to Abbott Laboratories. Abbott intended to use cyclamate to mask the bitterness of certain drugs such as antibiotics. In the U.S. in 1958, it was designated GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe). Cyclamate was marketed in tablet form for use by diabetics as an alternative tabletop sweetener, as well as in a liquid form; one such product was named ‘Sucaryl’ and is still available in non-US markets.
It was not until the 1960s when controversy developed and several studies showed its toxicity.
The ban on cyclamates in the United States came about after publication of a 1967 multigenerational study that started with 70 rats fed cyclamate and saccharine in a 10:1 mixture for two years. The rats were fed doses ranging from 500 mg per kg to 2,500 mg per kg. A 500 mg per kg dose equals approximately 30 soft-drink servings, according to a 2004 article published by lead author M.R. Weihrauch in “Annals of Oncology.”
At the end of two years, 12 of the 70 rats that received the 2,500 mg dose developed bladder cancer. After this finding, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare removed the sweetener from the GRAS, or generally regarded as safe list, resulting in its ban in the United States.
Male Reproductive Effects
Once ingested, a portion of cyclamate is converted to a potentially harmful metabolite, cyclohexylamine. In one 1989 mouse and rat study reported by A. Roberts of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, rats given cyclohexylamine directly developed testicular atrophy at a dose of 400 mg per kg after 13 weeks, while mice did not. A study of 18 workers in a cyclamate factory, four of whom had high levels of exposure to cyclohexylamine over a 20-year period, found that only one of the 18 had normal sperm count and motility according to the World Health Organization criteria.
Liver, Colon and Prostate Cancers
Animal studies such as a 24-year study of 37 monkeys have found that monkeys given either 100 mg per kg or 500 mg per kg developed more cancers than the placebo group, which developed no cancer.
However, the cancers were of different types and occurred at similar rates often seen in monkeys. Of the three cancers that developed, one was a liver cancer, one a colon cancer and one a prostate cancer. Three other monkeys in the treatment group developed benign tumors.
Many companies in China offer the sweetener by the metric ton to encourage wholesalers to maximize their profits.
If you see the little yellow packets of Sugar Twin or pink packets of Sweet N Low in Canada, or any other type from the other countries listed above, please stay away and encourage others to do the same. Organic golden cane sugar and honey are great alternatives and they won’t kill you in the process of drinking your favorite beverage.
Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.
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