ARTIFICIAL SWEETENER LINKED TO CANCER
The popular artificial sweetener known as aspartame is now on the World Health Organization’s list as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” according to The Guardian.
It has been linked to cancer, primarily in animal studies, but also some human studies. For example, a 2022 study of more than 100,000 adults in France found consumption of large amounts of artificial sweeteners was linked to a slightly higher risk of cancer.
Aspartame is used in thousands of “sugar-free” products, including diet sodas, drink mixes, syrups, gelatin, ice cream, and even chewing gum. It is now officially deemed a “possible” cause of cancer if consumed heavily.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has three categories of classification for cancer-causing substances: possibly carcinogenic to humans, probably carcinogenic to humans, and carcinogenic to humans.
“It’s a slight warning to people, but it’s not ‘do not consume,’” Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, said of the WHO decision. “Consume moderate levels and your OK,” he said, according to NBC News.
The popular ingredient has been around since 1974 and is found in over 5,000 different foods and drinks commonly consumed.
The WHO decision advised that a person weighing 70 kg would need to drink more than nine to 14 cans of diet soft drink a day to exceed the daily guideline.
Nonetheless, a second WHO group, the Expert Committee on Food Additives, did not change its threshold for the daily amount of aspartame that it claims is safe to consume: 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for adults who weigh about 154 pounds, equivalent to the amount in around 14 cans of Diet Coke.
The Food and Drug Administration has a slightly higher daily limit of 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for an adult who weighs about 132 pounds.
“FDA scientist do not have safety concerns when aspartame is used under the approved conditions,” the agency said to NBC.
However, there are many who would disagree. “This new report from the WHO shows that companies need to reduce the overall sweetness of their products rather than relying so much on sweeteners,” said Harriet Burt, a senior officer for World Action on Salt, Sugar & Health based at Queen Mary University of London.
“When done correctly, reformulation can gradually remove excess sugars, salt, and saturated fat from foods to improve their overall healthiness without the need for replacement ingredients such as non-sugar sweeteners,” Burt told The Guardian.
Past research has linked artificial sweeteners to a higher chance of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity in addition to cancer. Cancer is on the rise among youth and is no longer considered to be a disease of the aging population.
Further, the purported health benefits of sugar-free sweeteners have been drawn into question by a variety of research.
For example, a 2022 study in France found that people who consumed aspartame were at increased risk of stroke and that replacing added sugar with artificial sweeteners did not lower the risk of heart disease.
In another study published last year, Israeli researchers found that artificial sweeteners altered the participants’ populations of gut microbes.
“It’s best to eat a natural, healthy diet with naturally sweet foods,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University. “So, I think of these artificial sweeteners as a bridge away from very high doses of added sugar but not necessarily a safe switch.”