• Monday, June 24, 2024
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WHO says evidence linking aspartame to cancer limited

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Evidence linking aspartame sweetener has been found to be limited, requiring more research to ascertain whether the consumption of the chemical poses a carcinogenic threat, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The conclusion follows a joint assessment of the health impacts of the non-sugar sweetener by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

WHO announced two weeks ago that the popular artificial sweetener present in Diet Coke was a carcinogen, stirring concerns over usage in the fast-moving consumer goods industry.

“After reviewing the available scientific literature, both evaluations noted limitations in the available evidence for cancer, and other health effects,” the WHO stated in an official statement.

It noted that IARC classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans on the basis of limited evidence for cancer in humans, specifically for hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.

The agency also found limited evidence for cancer in experimental animals and limited evidence related to the possible mechanisms for causing cancer.

As a result, JECFA has concluded that there is no sufficient reason to change the already established acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0 to 40 mg per kg body weight for aspartame.

The committee, therefore, reaffirmed that it is safe for a person to consume within this limit per day.

“For example, with a can of diet soft drink containing 200 or 300 mg of aspartame, an adult weighing 70kg would need to consume more than 9–14 cans per day to exceed the acceptable daily intake, assuming no other intake from other food sources.” The committee said.

WHO further explained that although IARC classifications reflect the strength of scientific evidence as to whether an agent can cause cancer in humans, they do not reflect the risk of developing cancer at a given exposure level.

Aspartame is an artificial (chemical) sweetener widely used in various food and beverage products since the 1980s, including diet drinks, chewing gum, gelatin, ice cream, dairy products such as yogurt, breakfast cereal, toothpaste, and medications such as cough drops and chewable vitamins.

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death globally. Every year, 1 in 6 people die from cancer. Science is continuously expanding to assess the possible initiating or facilitating factors of cancer, hoping to reduce these numbers and the human toll,” said Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, WHO.

“The assessments of aspartame have indicated that, while safety is not a major concern at the doses which are commonly used, potential effects have been described that need to be investigated by more and better studies.”