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Business News/ Science / Health/  Can aspartame cause cancer? WHO not convinced. This is what it has to say

Can aspartame cause cancer? WHO not convinced. This is what it has to say

The sweetener aspartame is a 'possible carcinogen' but is safe to consume in agreed quantities, according to two groups linked to the WHO.

WHO cancer arm deems aspartame 'possible carcinogen'. Premium
WHO cancer arm deems aspartame 'possible carcinogen'.

The sweetener aspartame, one of the world's most popular sweeteners used in products from Coca-Cola diet sodas, is a ‘possible carcinogen’ but it remains safe to be consumed in agreed quantities, two groups linked to the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on Friday. 

The FDA pins the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for aspartame at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, while the European regulatory body recommends a slightly lower ADI at 40 mg/kg/day.

The rulings are the outcome of two separate WHO expert panels, one of which flags whether there is any evidence that a substance is a potential hazard and the other which assesses how much of a real-life risk that substance actually poses, Reuters reported. 

Addressing a press conference, WHO's head of nutrition Francesco Branca suggested that consumers weighing beverage choices consider neither aspartame nor sweetener, rather than choose water to drink. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has earlier said the sweetener aspartame was a “possible carcinogen" which means there is limited evidence a substance can cause cancer.

It does not take into account how much a person would need to consume to be at risk, which is considered by a separate panel, the WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), based in Geneva.

WHO Not Convinced on Aspartame

On Friday, JECFA said that it did not have convincing evidence of harm caused by aspartame, and continued to recommend that people keep their consumption levels of aspartame below 40mg/kg a day. At first, it set this level in 1981, and regulators worldwide have similar guidance for their populations.

Several scientists not associated with the reviews said the evidence linking aspartame to cancer is weak. Food and beverage industry associations said the decisions showed aspartame was safe and a good option for people wanting to reduce sugar in their diets.

The WHO said the existing consumption levels meant, for example, that a person weighing 60-70kg would have to drink more than 9-14 cans of soda daily to breach the limit, based on the average aspartame content in the beverages - around 10 times what most people consume.

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by American chemist James Schlatter. It gained popularity due to its zero calories and lack of bitter aftertaste. Approved by the FDA in 1974, it is used in various food products as a tabletop sweetener and in chewing gum and cereals.

Diet Coke, a product of Coca-Cola, is a popular soft drink that contains aspartame. Apart from that, it is found in gelatin, confectionery, desserts, and sugar-free cough drops. It is also used to enhance flavoring of baked and canned foods, powdered drink mixes, candy and puddings.

(With Reuters inputs)

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Published: 14 Jul 2023, 07:03 AM IST
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