According to the World Health Organization (WHO), aspartame, a chemical sweetener commonly found in diet sodas, is classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” However, the organization states that small amounts of aspartame are safe for consumption.
In a recent report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a body of the WHO, it was found that there is “limited evidence” linking aspartame with hepatocellular carcinoma, a form of liver cancer. The IARC reached this conclusion after analyzing three large-scale human studies conducted in the US and Europe.
Based on these findings, the WHO has categorized aspartame as a Group 2B substance, which is the third-highest level for potentially carcinogenic ingredients. Despite this classification, the organization has not changed its existing guidelines for daily intake.
The WHO recommends that individuals consume less than 40mg of aspartame per kilogram of body weight per day. For instance, if an adult weighing 70kg were to consume a can of diet soda, which typically contains 200mg to 300mg of aspartame, they would still be within the recommended limit. In fact, they would need to consume between nine and 14 cans per day to exceed the limit.
Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, has emphasized the need for further studies to investigate the potential effects of aspartame. He stated, “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.”
Aspartame can be found in a wide range of products, including diet sodas, chewing gum, candy, low-calorie yogurt, and breakfast cereal. It is also sold as a sweetener under the brand names NutraSweet, Candarel, and Equal.
Aspartame was approved for use as a sweetener in the US in 1974, and companies like Coca-Cola started adding it to their products, such as Diet Coke, in the 1980s. EU approval followed in 1994. However, despite its widespread use, multiple studies have linked aspartame to various health problems, including liver and lung cancer, brain damage, dementia, and seizures.
Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have consistently failed to find enough evidence to adjust their consumption guidelines regarding aspartame. The WHO and IARC have stated that they will continue to monitor new evidence and encourage independent research groups to conduct further studies on the potential association between aspartame exposure and consumer health effects.
It is important for individuals to be aware of the potential risks associated with aspartame consumption and make informed decisions about their dietary choices.