Global Health Agencies Assess Possible Health Impacts of Aspartame

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Health

WHO, IARC, and FAO Release Joint Assessment on Widely Used Non-Sugar Sweetener

Geneva – LIFESTYLE – The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) have jointly released their assessments on the health impacts of aspartame. This artificial sweetener, used extensively in various food and beverage products since the 1980s, has been classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by IARC due to “limited evidence.”

Aspartame in North American Foods

Aspartame is common in numerous popular foods in North America, including:

  1. Diet soft drinks
  2. Chewing gum
  3. Gelatin
  4. Ice cream
  5. Yogurt
  6. Breakfast cereals
  7. Toothpaste
  8. Medications such as cough drops and chewable vitamins

Investigating the Carcinogenicity of Aspartame

Despite the classification, JECFA reaffirmed the acceptable daily intake of aspartame to be 40 mg/kg body weight. Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety at WHO, asserted that while safety isn’t a major concern at common usage levels, potential effects described need to be examined in more detailed studies.

Both organizations carried out independent but collaborative reviews to assess the potential carcinogenic hazard and other health risks linked with aspartame consumption. This marks IARC’s first evaluation of aspartame and JECFA’s third.

Limited Evidence, More Research Required

Post-review, both evaluations reported limitations in available evidence for aspartame’s carcinogenicity and other health effects. IARC’s classification of aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans is based on limited evidence for hepatocellular carcinoma (a type of liver cancer) in humans and experimental animals, and on limited mechanistic evidence.

However, JECFA concluded that there is no sufficient reason to change the established acceptable daily intake for aspartame. As an example, an adult weighing 70kg would need to consume more than 9-14 cans of diet soft drink (each containing 200-300mg of aspartame) per day to exceed the acceptable daily intake.

Continued Monitoring and Future Research

Dr. Mary Schubauer-Berigan of the IARC Monographs programme emphasized that the findings of limited evidence necessitate more research to clarify our understanding of aspartame’s carcinogenic hazard.

On the other hand, Dr. Moez Sanaa, WHO’s Head of the Standards and Scientific Advice on Food and Nutrition Unit, argued for better studies with longer follow-ups and repeated dietary questionnaires, as well as randomized controlled trials to comprehend potential links between aspartame and carcinogenicity.

IARC and WHO have committed to continually monitor new evidence and encourage independent research groups to conduct further studies on the possible correlation between aspartame exposure and consumer health effects. This reaffirms their dedication to upholding public health safety in the context of food and nutrition.

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