The beneficial medical uses of saccharin outweigh its potential carcinogenic effects, a Medical School professor testified at a hearing before the House Committee on Health and the Environment this week.
Kurt J. Isselbacher, Mallinckrodt Professor of Medicine, was one of five scientists who testified that the benefits of using saccharin are great for obese or diabetic people, vastly outweighing the "remote" risk of cancer involved.
After recent tests conducted in Canada found that large doses of saccharin caused bladder cancer in rats, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a ban on the artificial sweetener to take effect within 120 days.
Obese people are prone to heart disease and high blood pressure which can result in premature death, George R. Kerr, an associate professor of Nutrition at the School of Public Health, said yesterday.
"The risk of cancer due to saccharin intake is minuscule compared with the risks of increased sugar consumption," he added.
Saccharin is very important in controlling diabetes, allowing diabetics to limit and accurately measure their sugar intake, Dr. Arnold L. Brown, chairman of the department of Pathology and Anatomy at the Mayo Clinic, which specializes in cancer treatment, said yesterday. United States," he added.
"There will be no artificial substitutes for sugar if saccharin is outlawed in the United States," he added.
Dr. Marvin A. Schneiderman, a director of the National Cancer Institute, said yesterday he thinks the Canadian studies, involving animals which anatomically resemble humans, warrant serious consideration.
The tests on rats proved there is a greater danger to the rats' offspring than to the first-generation animals injected with the substance. Because saccharin only came into widespread use during World War II, its effects will not be evident for another 15 to 25 years, Schneiderman said.
How Sweet It Is
He suggested that the FDA declare saccharin a drug, allowing physicians to prescribe it for diabetics and obese people, while limiting the sweetener's widespread dangers.
The decision to ban saccharin is based on the Delaney Amendment to the Food and Drug Act, which requires the FDA to ban any food substance that has been found to cause cancer in human beings or animals.
"The FDA has no choice but to follow the Delaney Clause," Kerr said yesterday.
The Canadian experiment "unequivocally" showed a carcinogenic effect, but there are no reported cases of saccharin-induced bladder cancer in humans in the 70 years that saccharin has been on the market, Brown said.
The regulation should not apply to saccharin on the basis of available evidence, he said. "If you were going to see the carcinogenic effect of saccharin, you would have seen it by now," he added, disagreeing with Schneiderman's testimony.
The five scientists testified that they would not vote to support an FDA action banning the substitute from the market.
The universal applicability of the Delaney Clause should be re-examined, Kerr said yesterday. "Although the intent of the clause is super, it is a ridiculous law in pure form," he added.
"When so many jobs and lives are involved in the decision to ban saccharin, we should take a look at the Delaney Clause again," he said. Instead of a ban, saccharin manufacturers should advise users of the carcinogenic effects of the substance by a packaging label, he added.