WHO says no change to aspartame guidance following cancer concerns

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

Aspartame is used as a sweetener by many soft drink manufacturers
Aspartame is used as a sweetener by many soft drink manufacturers

Related tags Aspartame Sweeteners Cancer WHO Soft drinks Fda

World Health Organization (WHO) advice on safe daily aspartame consumption remained unchanged following the release of two independent reviews looking into the sweetener.

The acceptable daily intake (ADI) of aspartame, deemed safe by the WHO, will not be changed following the publication of two complementary reviews on 14 July 2023, following concerns over links to cancer.

One review was conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), with the other led by the WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

While JECFA sought to assess the risk that aspartame potentially poses to humans given the quantities it is consumed in, IARC looked at carcinogenic hazards. This was the first time that IARC has evaluated aspartame and the third time for JECFA.

IARC concluded there was “limited evidence”​ for carcinogenicity in humans and has classified aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”​.

Current aspartame ADI is fine

JECFA found that the current ADI of 0-40mg of aspartame per kg of body weight had no reason to be adjusted.

This translates to an adult weighing 70kg needing to drink between nine and 14 cans of a soft drink containing 200 to 300mg of aspartame every day to exceed the ADI. This assumes they do not also consume aspartame through other products.

Aspartame is widely used in diet drinks, chewing gum, gelatin, ice cream, yogurt, breakfast cereal, toothpaste and medications.

Dr Francesco Branca, director of the department of nutrition and food safety at the WHO, said that the safety of aspartame is not a “major concern​” given the quantities it is used in by humans, but that further studies would continue.

Science is continuously expanding to assess the possible initiating or facilitating factors of cancer, in the hope of reducing these numbers and the human toll​,” Dr Branca added.

FDA has no safety concerns about aspartame

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has pushed back against the reclassification of aspartame by IARC, stating that the body’s conclusions do not support labelling it as “possibly carcinogenic to humans​”.

FDA scientists do not have safety concerns when aspartame is used under the approved conditions​,” said an FDA spokesperson.

The sweetener is approved in many countries. Regulatory and scientific authorities, such as Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority have evaluated aspartame and also consider it safe at current permitted use levels​.”

In other news, researchers found that adding blends of nutritionally important mineral salts to non-sugar sweeteners can improve their taste​.

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