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An artificial sweetener has been linked to an increased risk of developing cancer in a controversial new study.

Splenda, a sweetener that is advertised as a healthier alternative to sugar, has been linked with an increased risk of leukaemia and other cancers by researchers in Italy.

Researchers at the Ramazzini Institute in Italy fed 457 male mice and 396 female mice various quantities of sucralose, and recorded a significantly increased incidence of cancers including leukemia in male mice.

Splenda contains sucralose, which was discovered in 1976 by scientists from sugar company Tate & Lyle working in collaboration with University of London researchers. It was approved for human consumption in Europe 24 years later, after the EU’s Scientific Committee on Food declared that the ingredient was “not harmful to the immune system, does not cause cancer, infertility, pose a risk to pregnancy or affect blood sugar levels”.

The new report disagrees with some previous studies.

“These findings do not support previous data that sucralose is biologically inert,” says the study, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

“More studies are necessary to show the safety of sucralose, including new and more adequate carcinogenic bioassay on rats. Considering that millions of people are likely exposed, follow-up studies are urgent.”

It probably comes as no surprise that Splenda has strongly denied the claims. They have stressed that food and health safety bodies have agreed that the product is safe, and does not cause cancer.

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