WHO says aspartame a possible cancer cause, but maintains current intake guidelines
As per an assessment report, WHO said aspartame is classified as "possibly" carcinogenic to humans. The WHO statement stated that the classification is done basis of limited evidence for carcinogenicity in humans, specifically for hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.
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 released assessments regarding the health impacts of the non-sugar sweetener aspartame. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener widely used in various food and beverage products since the 1980s.
"IARC classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) on the basis of limited evidence for cancer in humans (specifically, for hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a type of liver cancer). There was also limited evidence for cancer in experimental animals and limited evidence related to the possible mechanisms for causing cancer," the WHO statement read.
"JECFA’s risk assessments determine the probability of a specific type of harm, i.e. cancer, to occur under certain conditions and levels of exposure," WHO added.
No reason to change acceptable daily intake
JECFA concluded that the available data did not provide sufficient reason to change the previously established acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0-40 mg/kg body weight for aspartame.
"The committee therefore reaffirmed that it is safe for a person to consume within this limit per day. For example, with a can of diet soft drink containing 200 or 300 mg of aspartame, an adult weighing 70kg would need to consume more than 9–14 cans per day to exceed the acceptable daily intake, assuming no other intake from other food sources," the statement read.
"IARC classifications reflect the strength of scientific evidence as to whether an agent can cause cancer in humans, but they do not reflect the risk of developing cancer at a given exposure level," it added.
Need for further research
Dr Moez Sanaa, WHO’s Head of the Standards and Scientific Advice on Food and Nutrition Unit. “We need better studies with longer follow-up and repeated dietary questionnaires in existing cohorts. We need randomized controlled trials, including studies of mechanistic pathways relevant to insulin regulation, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, particularly as related to carcinogenicity.”
IARC and WHO will continue to monitor new evidence and encourage independent research groups to conduct further studies on the potential association between aspartame exposure and consumer health effects.