In a recent development, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified aspartame, a commonly used artificial sweetener, as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
This classification comes from a joint assessment conducted by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which represents the first public intervention by the UN health agency regarding this widely used sweetener.
Aspartame has been a key ingredient in various food and beverage products since the 1980s, including diet drinks, chewing gum, ice cream, yoghurt, breakfast cereals, toothpaste, cough drops, and chewable vitamins.
The new assessments by IARC indicate “limited evidence” that suggests a potential link between aspartame consumption and cancer.
Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety at WHO, stated that while safety is generally not a major concern at common doses, further studies are required to investigate potential effects.
He emphasized the importance of expanding scientific research to identify initiating or facilitating factors of cancer in hopes of reducing its impact on human lives.
The independent assessments conducted by IARC and JECFA aimed to evaluate the potential carcinogenic hazard and other health risks associated with aspartame consumption.
JECFA concluded that aspartame remains safe for consumption within recommended levels. According to their findings, an adult weighing around 70 kilograms (150 pounds) would need to consume more than 9-14 cans of soft drinks daily to exceed the recommended intake, assuming no additional intake from other sources.
The IARC’s Dr. Mary Schubauer-Berigan stated that aspartame was classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on limited evidence from studies on hepatocellular carcinoma (a type of liver cancer) in humans and experimental animals.
She emphasized the need for further research to better understand the potential carcinogenic hazards of aspartame.
In response to these studies, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement expressing disagreement with IARC’s conclusion.
The FDA stated that aspartame is one of the most extensively studied food additives and that they have no safety concerns when it is used under approved conditions.
Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority also consider aspartame safe at current permitted levels.
Both IARC and WHO have committed to monitoring new evidence and encouraging independent research groups to conduct further studies on the potential association between aspartame exposure and its effects on consumer health.
As the debate continues, consumers and regulatory bodies worldwide will closely follow developments in this ongoing research.