Saturday, 27 December 2008

Cyclamates in Coke Zero: to drink or not to drink?

this article was published in Athens News, 26 December 2008.


Motto: Given that cyclamates is still not legal in the US, its ADI is currently being questioned and there are many new sweeteners available, why does the Coca-Cola Company produce Coke Zero in the US without cyclamates but has introduced it to the formula marketed in Greece?

By Yannis Zabetakis

THE HUMAN body has one strong similarity to our planet - about two-thirds of the Earth is water and, at a similar ratio (60 percent of our body weight), water is the most important component of our body.

All important biochemical reactions that keep us alive take place in aqueous solutions. If we lose 5 percent of this water, we feel thirsty and if we lose about 10 percent we fall into a coma. Therefore, it is of vital importance both for our living and well-being to maintain the levels of our body’s water. In countries like Greece, with hot and long summers, we need to drink more (to replace the water lost), and it is beneficial if we can purchase drinks with high nutritional but low calorific values.

Balancing the human needs for water with the increasing rate of overweight people in the EU, leading companies are producing worldwide soft drinks without sugar. However, in order to keep the sweetness of the drink, artificial sweeteners are used, like acesulfame K (E950), aspartame (E951) and cyclamates (E952).

There is a long ongoing debate about the safety of aspartame; some scientists consider it toxic but many safety bodies suggest it is safe.

However, the most controversial compound is cyclamates, as today it is “not legal in food”, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, or FDA (see But directive 94/35/EC ( defines that cyclamic acid and its derivatives can be present in non-alcoholic drinks at levels below 250 mg/l, i.e. every litre of soft-drink may have up to 0.25 g cyclamates.

How did this discrepancy occur?
Cyclamate was initially marketed as tablets that were recommended for use as a sweetener by diabetics. In 1958, cyclamates were classified as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). A mixture of cyclamate and saccharin, which had been found to have synergistic sweetening properties and improved the taste of what it was added to, was subsequently marketed for use in special dietary foods. In the 1950s, diet drinks were introduced using a cyclamate/saccharin blend. The market grew rapidly and soon accounted for about 30 percent of soft drink sales.
In 1969, the result of a chronic toxicity study with a mixture of cyclamate and saccharin was interpreted as implicating cyclamate as a bladder carcinogen in rats. Cyclamate was stripped of its GRAS status and eventually, in 1970, was banned in the US from use in foods, beverages and drugs. It is still currently banned.
However, many other countries did not act on this limited data, and cyclamate continued to be used as a sweetener in those countries. Today, over 50 countries still approve of the use of cyclamate.
In Greece, the most famous soft drink that contains cyclamates is “Coca-Cola Zero”. In fact, this drink contains all three of the above mentioned sweeteners - acesulfame K, aspartame and cyclamates.
According to Thalia Constantinidou (head of the European group Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at The Coca-Cola Company), the company uses “different combinations of sweeteners to reach a specific taste favoured by consumers in a certain country”. Because consumer taste preferences differ around the world, the Coca-Cola company “selects the sweetener combination that best meets the taste preferences of consumers in a certain country for its various products”. In addition to Greece, many countries in Europe and Asia, as well as Canada and Australia, use cyclamate.
To date, the most recent scientific publication on the safety issues of low-calorie sweeteners and other sugar substitutes is the one published in 2006 by Kroger et al (Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 5:35-47), which stated that cyclamate is not an approved food ingredient in the US, despite an on-going petition to the FDA for its reapproval. According to the FDA, this petition is “held in abeyance”, meaning the agency will not actively work on this petition until further data are submitted.
Despite the legality of cyclamates’ usage in the EU, in 2003, the Food and Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK urged parents to check drinks they buy for either the name "cyclamic acid”, "cyclamate" or "E952" and make sure that children aged four and below do not drink more than three cups (180 ml per cup) a day of drinks containing cyclamates, as this would exceed their recommended daily limit of the chemical.
It was also reported that FSA is pressing the European Commission for the current limits of cyclamates in drinks to be halved (
Where do we stand today?
Following the study of 1969 on the carcinogenic activity of cyclamates in rats, extensive studies in rats, mice, dogs, hamsters and monkeys did not show any link between cyclamate and cancer. Thus, on the basis of the complete body of evidence, scientists have concluded that cyclamate is not carcinogenic (Ahmed, FE; Thomas, DB 1992. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 22:81-118).
Therefore, scientists and regulators have now focused their attention on other safety issues, focusing on the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of cyclamates. Establishing an ADI for cyclamates is difficult because different people metabolise this sweetener in different ways.
Some people excrete all or practically all of it unchanged, while others convert variable amounts - occasionally as much as 85 percent of ingested cyclamates - into a metabolite cyclohexylamine. This amine has a far greater potential for toxicity than cyclamate itself (Bopp, BA; Sonders, RC; Kesterson, JW; 1986. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 16:213-306).
Given the considerable disagreement between experts, research on cyclamate is continuing. Recent studies have supported the lack of an association between cyclamate and cyclohexylamine and male infertility in humans, despite the fact that high doses of cyclohexamine cause testicular atrophy in rats (Serra-Majem, L; Bassas, L et al; 2003. Food Additives and Contaminants, 20:1097-1104).
Given that cyclamates is still not legal in the US, its ADI is currently being questioned and there are many new sweeteners available, why does the Coca-Cola Company produce Coke Zero in the US without cyclamates but has introduced it to the formula marketed in Greece?
It could be argued that Europeans have a taste preference for this sweetener over other alternatives. Yet, still the question remains of why introduce a scientifically debated compound into a new product that was previously cyclamate-free.
One other safety issue would be the one related to the ADI concept. Given that any compound below its ADI levels is considered safe, it is perfectly acceptable to use it in foodstuffs. However, if two compounds (eg aspartame and cyclamate) are present below their ADI levels, is the combined risk for the consumer any higher than the simple arithmetic addition of the two individual risks?

It would be surprising if the beverage companies do not already have some pertinent data on the issue of combining two or more artificial sweeteners. However, such data (if it exists) is not publicly available, so future research should focus on this possible synergistic toxic effect of aspartame and cyclamates.
The author is a senior lecturer of food chemistry and lead auditor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Athens

1 comment:

Yannis Zabetakis said...