Cancer in Lab Rats linked to Cancer in Humans?

This post is a side note to Whole Foods and Your Health, Part 7: Saccharin, in which I mentioned saccharine being declared “safe” in 2000.

Results from subsequent carcinogenicity studies (studies that examine whether a substance can cause cancer) of these sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans.

In other words, there’s an association between artificial sweeteners and cancer in lab animals. Do humans experience the same side effects to foods as mice and rats?

The UCDavis Center for Animal Alternatives Information published an article called “Mouse in Science: Why Mice?”  The article explains why mice are ideal test subjects for possible human reactions to foods, chemicals, vaccines, and drugs.

Mice are used to evaluate the safety of new chemicals or products such as household cleaners and pesticides that may be potentially toxic to humans. Mice are also used to assess the safety of drugs and vaccines made for medical use.

Toxicity tests are performed to measure the effects of limited or repeated, long-term exposure of an animal to a particular substance. Other tests measure the extent to which the substance damages cells and causes cancer, mutations in DNA, and birth defects.

From the National Institutes of Health,

Animals and people get many of the same illnesses. Certain types
of animals can stand in for humans with particular diseases. The
information we gain from these studies—about how we’re the same
and how we’re different—benefits people and animals.
There are striking similarities between the physiological systems of humans and various species of animals. For example, much of what we know about the immune system has come from studies with mice, and much of what we know about the cardiovascular system has come from studies with dogs. Research results from animals also provide the information necessary to design human trials that must be completed for legal approval of new devices, drugs or procedures. It is important to be able to gauge how a new drug or procedure will affect a whole biological system before using it on humans. This is critical for scientific as well as ethical reasons. Laboratory animals are an integral part of the research process. In fact, virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals.

The same mice who are used to prove a substance safe also used to prove that a substance is not safe. If a mouse developed cancer after being treated with drugs, it would be assumed that those same drugs could possibly cause cancer in humans. But when mice develop cancer after consuming saccharine, it can’t happen to humans?

It’s now time for me to pretend to be a conspiracy theorist. Who runs the pharmaceutical companies, food companies, and chemical companies? (Not that there is much of a difference between the three.) Johann Hari of the Huffington Post writes:

Most of the work carried out by scientists to bring a drug to your local pharmacist — and into your lungs, or stomach, or bowels — is done in government-funded university labs, paid for by your taxes. Drug companies usually come in late in the process of development, and pay for part of the expensive but largely uncreative final stages, like buying some of the chemicals and trials that are needed. In return, they own the exclusive rights to manufacture and profit from the resulting medicine for years.

Why would we keep this system, if it is so bad? The drug companies have spent more than $3 billion on lobbyists and political “contributions” over the past decade in the US alone. They have paid politicians to make the system work in their interests. If you doubt how deeply this influence goes, listen to a Republican congressman, Walter Burton, who admitted of the last big health care legislation passed in the US in 2003: “The pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote the bill.”

In President Eisenhower’s farewell address (1961), he said,

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever-present — and is gravely to be regarded.

He definitely saw what the future held.

So how does this concern saccharin? Saccharin was essentially declared “safe” in 2000. Why? Why would an additive be declared safe for human consumption after causing cancer in lab animals? We can only assume that there was money involved, but that assumption is, at the same time, most likely accurate.

CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) states,

…the scientists described several studies in rats and mice that found that saccharin caused cancer in the uterus, skin, and several other organs, as well as in the urinary bladder. Other studies showed that saccharin increased the potency of known carcinogens, such as methylnitrosourea. In addition, they cited six studies of humans, including a large National Cancer Institute study, that found an association between artificial-sweetener consumption (the studies could not distinguish between saccharin and cyclamate) and bladder cancer, especially in heavy consumers of diet foods.

The scientists acknowledge that saccharin has not been proven to cause cancer in humans, but they say the studies indicating a risk make it imperative that we consider saccharin dangerous.

In a letter to the National Toxicology Program Board of Scientific Counselors’ Report on Carcinogens Subcommittee:

Sodium saccharin causes urinary bladder tumors in male rats. While some have argued that those tumors are irrelevant to humans, such arguments are flawed. While it cannot be proved that sodium saccharin’s causation of bladder tumors in male rats is relevant to humans, neither can it be assumed to be irrelevant.

In the chart near the beginning of this post, the National Institutes of Health show that rats are used in carcinogen screening. Rats + additive = cancer; humans + same additive ≠ cancer?

To end the very long debate, I believe there is a link between additives and cancer. Even if I didn’t believe, do I want to consume a highly processed food that has many other side effects? Isn’t it better (and easier!) to avoid than to regret and attempt to cure later?

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