Artificial sweetener can ‘possibly’ cause cancer – WHO

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The World Health Organization (WHO) classified aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” but determined that tiny levels are safe to consume. Aspartame, an artificial sweetener frequently found in diet sodas, has been linked to a slew of health issues.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found “limited evidence” tying aspartame to hepatocellular carcinoma, a kind of liver cancer, in a report released on Friday. The IARC, a WHO committee, reached this decision after reviewing three large-scale human studies conducted in the United States and Europe.

Based on these data, the WHO classified aspartame as a Group 2B substance, the third-highest of four possible carcinogenic levels.

However, the organization did not change its existing daily intake limits, proposing that adults consume no more than 40mg of aspartame per kilogram of body weight each day. An adult weighing 70kg would need to drink between nine and fourteen cans of diet soda per day to exceed this limit, with a can of diet soda typically containing 200mg to 300mg of aspartame.

“Aspartame assessments have indicated that, while safety is not a major concern at commonly used doses, potential effects have been described that need to be investigated by more and better studies,” Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety reveals.

Aspartame is present in many items, including diet beverages, chewing gum, candy, low-calorie yogurt, and morning cereal. It is also marketed as a sweetener under the brands NutraSweet, Candarel, and Equal.

In the United States, aspartame was approved for use as a sweetener in 1974, and Coca-Cola began incorporating it into Diet Coke in the 1980s. Although the chemical was approved by the EU in 1994, numerous studies have since connected it to a variety of health issues, including liver and lung cancer, brain damage, dementia, and seizures. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, however, have continuously failed to discover sufficient evidence to change their consumption standards.

The WHO and IARC will “continue to monitor new evidence and encourage independent research groups to conduct additional studies.”