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Ask Dr. Mike: False Claims that Artificial Sweeteners Can Cure Cancer & More

Here you'll find the answers to a wealth of health and wellness questions posed by Healthy Talk fans. Listen in because what you know helps ensure healthy choices you can live with. Today on Healthy Talk, you wanted to know:

I just saw a report on Fox News that says artificial sweeteners can treat cancer. Now, I am confused!

Dr. Mike is extremely upset at these claims and doesn't want you to be confused. In the video, they specifically address Saccharin, which is a common artificial sweeteners on the market. There are two different things to consider when people talk about cancer, carcinogens (what causes cancer) and how you treat cancer, or what makes it worse.

So, no, saccharin shouldn't be used as a treatment and can't cure cancer; it's a carcinogen and can do more harm. In fact, it's been established way back in the 1980s that this sweetener can cause DNA mutation, which is exactly what cancer is.

What this doctor is claiming in the article is that saccharin is able to block an enzyme called carbonic anhydrides. When this is blocked, cancer cells can't aggregate as well. Therefore, saccharin is an inhibitor of cancer cell aggregation, which could possibly decrease the ability of cancer cells to spread.

When is it not okay to take a generic drug?

There are two types of generic drugs, type A and type B. Type A generic drug is okay to be taken because it's made up of the same compounds that are used in the brand name drug. However, type B generic drugs might alter certain dosages because it's cheaper to make. Dr. Mike suggests sticking with type A generic drugs.

If you have a health question or concern, Dr. Mike encourages you to write him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call in, toll-free, to the LIVE radio show (1.844.305.7800) so he can provide you with support and helpful advice.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: March 27, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

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DR MIKE: So this first question I got just last night so I confirmed what this person was saying because I went to this website and watched this video so I thought, "Yes, this is a good question." I just saw a report on Fox News that artificial sweeteners may treat cancers. Now I am confused. So I went to Fox News and, sure enough, I did see on Fox News Health there's a report about saccharin, Specifically, how it may be able to block a certain type of protein that's important for cancers that allows it to be able to stick together and grow.

The lead investigator for this study was on Fox News, his name was Dr. Robert McKenna. By the way ,I don't know him personally but I know of him. He's down here in Florida, I think, where I'm at. And so I watched this video with Dr. Robert McKenna and he said, this is--now I'm paraphrasing—so, let me paraphrase this this is what he said. Isn't it amazing that a few years ago we thought saccharin caused cancer. Now it may, in fact, treat it.

Wow, um, no. I think that's where mainstream medicine gets a little misleading. So, let's talk a little bit about this. What's going on here? And I think in order to answer this question, I don't want you to be confused because it's really not that confusing. It seems confusing just when you watch this report but when you think about it, I think I can help you here.

You have to understand thought there's two different things that we're really talking about here when it comes to cancer. We're talking on one end, things that cause cancer, that's called carcinogenesis. And then on the other hand, we're talking about once the cancer is developed what are things that can treat it or even make it worse, or whatever. So you really have two different fields of study. You've got people who study causes of cancer and people that study, "Well, once it's happened, what am I going to do with it?"

Saccharin, through research in the 1970's and 80's has been well established, at least in animal minds, to be a carcinogen. It is involved in carcinogenesis, the genesis of cancer cells. There was even a couple studies, animal models, or maybe these were more petri dish laboratory studies, showing that it could actually cause DNA mutation, which is what ultimately cancer is. That hasn't changed. Saccharin is a carcinogen. I mean that is well established.

But let's move to the other side of that now. Things that cause cancer. Saccharin falls on that list. Now, once you have a cancer it turns out, based on the research that Dr. McKenna did down here in Florida, saccharin is able to block...Now, of course, it's high levels, right? Nigh high levels, more than you're going to get in a little pink pack, but high levels of saccharin is able to block an enzyme called "carbonic anhydrase".

And what happens is, when you block carbonic anhydrase, cancer cells can't aggregate together as well. And that's important because of cancer cells want to get together and spread they first kind of have to clump and once they clumpm then they can act more like a solid tumor a growth and then they can travel to distant parts. That's called metastatic disease. But the first step in metastatic spread is these cancer cells are kind of just talking together and sticking together. And an important enzyme that they use to do that is called "carbonic anhydrase".

It has to do with regulating pH within the cancer cell environment which if you've got the right pH, then the cancer cell proteins that are sticking on the surface can kind of stick together but if you block that enzyme, they're not able to regulate pH properly those proteins sticking out on their surface aren't sticky and they can't aggregate and they can't spread. That's what his research was. Saccharin is an inhibitor, in a sense, if I can just summarize it, is an inhibitor of cancer cell aggregation which could decrease the ability of cancer cells to spread.

Listen, this is great research because now, forget the saccharin. What this means is if we can find more safe and targeted drugs that are not carcinogens like saccharin, so find a drug or a compound that's not a carcinogen but that also inhibits carbonic anhydrase, now we're talking about something really cool. You know, it's kind of like radiation. This just came to mind. Radiation--UV radiation from the sun, gamma ray- radiation, radioactive nuclear, whatever.

Radiation x-rays (laughing) can cause cancer. They're ionized radiation, an x-ray. It's a carcinogen but if done in the right amount in the right way, it can actually be used to treat cancer so same thing. Saccharin is a carcinogen but it also turns out that once the cancer is formed in a high enough dose, it can maybe stop cancer cell aggregation. So, the real potential and opportunity with this research about saccharin isn't using saccharin as a treatment.

Remember, I don't want to do any harm to people, but it's focusing on inhibiting carbonic anhydrase. Boy ,if I can find something now that's more natural, more safe, that's not a carcinogen like saccharin that can block carbonic anhydrase, now we're on to something. So, Dr. McKenna on this video on Fox News who said maybe now saccharin may even be used as a treatment for cancer?

No, no, no. Saccharin has opened up a potential research field for us to look at carbonic anhydrase inhibitors that are more safe. That's what it's done. Saccharin's not going to be the treatment. It's a carcinogen. It could possibly do more harm. I might start a cancer somewhere else in the person's body. So, I don't like his quote and I think maybe that's why you were confused.

Artificial sweeteners aren't good. They're not. They're not good. They cause nerve issues, intestinal issues and many of them, like saccharin, are carcinogens. And so, no, that's not the treatment but this research specifically about saccharin blocking carbonic anhydrase has opened up a whole field of study now in helping us to prevent spread of cancers. That's awesome! And we should look more at safe carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. That's what I took out of this research.

Okay, next question: When is it not am I doing on time? I think I'm okay.

"When is it not okay to take a generic drug?"

When is it not okay to take a generic drug? So, we know that when a pharmaceutical company receives approval for a new drug, they submit what's called a new drug application to the FDA. The FDA reviews all their research and if the benefit is high and the risk is low, it's usually approved knowing that they're going to do additional research testing which is known as Phase 4 out in the general population.

That's how it's done. Once that drug has been approved, they get a patent and they're able to patent that compound--that chemical compound. And I don't remember exactly, I worked for a pharmaceutical company. You'd think I would know this, but I think a patent is for like 15-20 years. Something like that. Once that patent goes out, other companies, other chemical-manufacturing companies, can copy that chemical compound and sell it as a generic derivative.

But there are two types of generic drugs. One of the types called "Type A" generic drug that is perfectly fine to take anytime because it's an exact copy of the original drug. The bioavailability, the absorption, it's all exactly the same. However, some generic drugs are called "Type B" where it's been changed a little bit because it's cheaper to make it that way and it changes the bioavailability. They're pretty much safe for the most part but maybe you don't want to do "B" type, do "Type A" generic drugs.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD with Dr. Mike. Stay well.