World Health Organization Says Sadly Aspartame Sweetener Is ‘Possibly Carcinogenic’

Aspartame

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener commonly used in soft drinks, has been classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Despite this classification, the WHO is not urging consumers to stop purchasing products containing aspartame or asking manufacturers to discontinue its use. The organization recommends exercising moderation when consuming products containing the sweetener.

Aspartame

The Classification and Recommendations

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conducted its first-ever evaluation of the carcinogenicity of aspartame. Based on the limited evidence available, the IARC classified it in Group 2B, which includes substances that are possibly carcinogenic to humans. The evaluation specifically focused on hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer, and also considered limited-strength evidence regarding cancer in experimental animals.

Francesco Branca, the World Health Organization’s nutrition and food safety director, emphasized that the WHO is not advising companies to withdraw products containing aspartame or asking consumers to completely eliminate its consumption. Instead, the organization urges moderation in the intake of aspartame-containing products.

Limited Evidence and Public Reassurance

The evidence for hepatocellular carcinoma came from three epidemiological studies conducted in the United States and across 10 European countries. Mary Schubauer-Berigan from the IARC stated that these were the only studies examining liver cancer. Paul Pharoah, a professor of cancer epidemiology, assured the general public that there is no need to worry excessively about the risk of cancer associated with substances classified in Group 2B.

It joins other substances in Group 2B, including extract of aloe vera and caffeic acid found in tea and coffee. The International Sweeteners Association highlighted that this classification reaffirms the safety of aspartame after a comprehensive review.

Acceptable Daily Intake and High Consumption Risks

The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), formed by the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), evaluated the risks associated with a particular sweetener. After reviewing the data, JECFA concluded that there is no reason to change the acceptable daily intake (ADI) established in 1981, which ranges from zero to 40 milligrams of the sweetener per kilogram of body weight.

An adult weighing 70 kg would need to consume more than nine to 14 cans of sugar-free soft drink per day to exceed the ADI, assuming no additional intake of the sweetener from other sources. The WHO’s recommendation for moderation in consumption primarily concerns high consumers and not occasional or infrequent consumers.

Aspartame in Various Products

It has been widely used as an artificial chemical sweetener since the 1980s. It can be found in diet drinks, chewing gum, gelatin, ice cream, dairy products such as yogurt, breakfast cereals, toothpaste, cough drops, and chewable vitamins. Its presence in these products has raised concerns among some consumer organizations.

Camille Dorioz, campaign manager at the consumer organization Foodwatch, expressed discontent with the classification and stated that a possibly carcinogenic sweetener should not be present in food and drink. However, the WHO’s classification puts aspartame in the same category as kimchi and other pickled vegetables, according to the International Sweeteners Association.

Aspartame

WHO’s Advice: Choosing Alternatives

In addition to the classification of aspartame, the WHO has previously released guidelines advising against the use of non-sugar sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, are not recommended for losing weight and can have potential health effects. In light of the recent update, consumers are encouraged to consider a third option: choosing water instead of products with added sugar or sweeteners. The WHO suggests limiting the consumption of sweetened products altogether and opting for alternatives that do not contain either free sugars or sweeteners.

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Conclusion

The World Health Organization’s classification of aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” has raised concerns among consumers. However, the organization emphasizes moderation rather than complete avoidance. The evaluation considered limited evidence of hepatocellular carcinoma and the risks associated with high consumption. Consumers are encouraged to make informed choices and consider alternatives that do not contain added sugars or sweeteners.

FAQs

  1. Is aspartame banned due to its classification as possibly carcinogenic? No, the World Health Organization is not urging companies to withdraw products containing aspartame or asking consumers to stop consuming it. The recommendation is to exercise moderation.
  2. Should I be worried about the risk of cancer from aspartame? According to experts, the risk associated with substances classified in Group 2B, including aspartame, should not be a major concern for the general public.
  3. Where does aspartame appear in products? It can be found in a variety of products, including diet drinks, chewing gum, gelatin, ice cream, dairy products, breakfast cereals, toothpaste, cough drops, and chewable vitamins.
  4. What alternatives can I choose instead of products with aspartame? The World Health Organization suggests considering water as an alternative and limiting the consumption of sweetened products overall. There are products available that do not contain added sugars or sweeteners.
  5. What is the acceptable daily intake of aspartame? The acceptable daily intake ranges from zero to 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight, as established by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives.

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