What is saccharin?

Saccharin is an artificial sweetener, the first and oldest used in food. It was discovered in 1878, announced in 1879, by Ira Remsen and Constantin Fahlberg. They were working on experiments with toluene when one day, by not washing their hands, they discovered the sweet taste of one of its derivatives, saccharin. Chemically it is an o-sulfobenzoic amide known as E954 in the food industry.

Among its main features is a sweetening power 300 times higher than that of sugar, which is why it is usually used in the form of sodium salt dissolved in water (sodium saccharin) or in low-dose tablets. It has a residual bitter taste and has no impact on blood glucose (blood glucose concentration) and can be consumed by diabetics. It does not provide calories and its stability against heat and low reactivity make it suitable for use in the food industry and for cooked foods.

Saccharin has been declared fit for human consumption by the FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and by the United States Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). The ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) established by these organisms is 5 mg/kg of body weight; for example, a person weighing 70 kg could safely consume up to 350 mg per day under this ADI.

Saccharin is currently widely used in combination with other sweeteners, such as aspartame, cyclamate, xylitol or sucralose, each one providing characteristics that the others do not have or to improve the characteristics of each sweetener separately. For example, to mask the residual bitter taste of saccharin.

saccharin and cancer

In the mid-1970s, a study carried out with laboratory rats associated saccharin with cancer and since then the controversy and doubts about this substance have not ceased. Based on this study, some countries such as Canada banned its use as a precautionary measure. It is currently allowed in most countries and Canada is considering approving it. In the United States, since 1977, all foods containing saccharin have been required to be labeled with a warning about possible health effects. This regulation was withdrawn in 2000.

The reason it is approved is that rat urine, unlike human urine, was later shown to have a combination of high pH, ​​high calcium phosphate concentration and high protein concentration which, in combination with saccharin, produced some microcrystals responsible for the bladder cancer that was observed in the male rats of the experiment. In addition, numerous subsequent epidemiological studies have failed to demonstrate that there is a clear relationship between cancer and saccharin, which does not necessarily mean that this relationship does not exist or that it is not a risk factor.

Go up