Aspartame Could 'Possibly' Cause Cancer, but Safe To Use Within Limit: WHO

WHO says the recommended intake limit for aspartame remains unchanged. What is it?

2 min read

Aspartame — a popular artificial sweetener widely used in diet soft drinks, sugar-free foods, and even medication — is a "possible carcinogen", say two different arms of the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, they also added that the assessment was done based on 'limited evidence', and that aspartame remains safe for use in the previously recommended daily intake levels.

New Update: The WHO, on Friday, 14 July, released a joint statement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) classifying aspartame as a "possibly carcinogenic to humans".

After reviewing existing literature, the health bodies said they found limited evidence of cancer, specifically, hepatocellular carcinoma (a type of liver cancer) in humans.

Yes, but: The WHO's Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that "the data evaluated indicated no sufficient reason to change the previously established acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0 - 40 mg/kg body weight for aspartame.".

Reality check: For clarity, one can of diet soft drink generally contains 200 or 300 mg of aspartame. So an adult that weighs around 70 kg would have to consume more than 9–14 cans per day to exceed the acceptable daily intake - assuming they aren't consuming other products with aspartame.

This is also why diet drinks with artificial sweeteners are not recommended for children.

Between the lines: You might not always be aware of how much aspartame you're really consuming. Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame are widely used in commonly used products, more than you would think.

Apart from diet soft drinks, they are also used in,

  • Breakfast cereal

  • Flavoured Yogurt

  • Ice cream (particularly, sugar-free ice cream)

  • Toothpaste

  • Sugar-free chewing gum

  • Fruit Juices

  • Packaged Milk-based drinks

  • Cough drops, and chewable supplements

What they're saying: According to the folks at WHO, this review is an indication that more studies and investigations will be needed going forth to get a clearer picture.

“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," said Dr Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, WHO in the statement.

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