Sugar substitute scrutiny: aspartame’s carcinogenic concerns
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have jointly released assessments on the health impacts of the artificial sweetener aspartame. These assessments come amid concerns about the potential carcinogenicity of aspartame and its widespread use in various food and beverage products since the 1980s.
IARC has classified aspartame as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (Group 2B), citing limited evidence for its carcinogenicity, specifically in relation to hepatocellular carcinoma, a form of liver cancer. This classification is based on limited evidence in both humans and experimental animals and limited understanding of the mechanisms that may lead to cancer.
On the other hand, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reaffirmed the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of aspartame at 40 mg/kg body weight. JECFA concluded that the available data did not provide sufficient reason to change this established limit, indicating that aspartame consumption within this range is safe.
Both assessments noted limitations in the available evidence for cancer and other health effects associated with aspartame consumption. Notably, JECFA factored in IARC's classifications but found the evidence on cancer risk in humans not convincing.
Both IARC and WHO stressed the need for more research to refine our understanding of whether aspartame poses a carcinogenic hazard. They will continue monitoring new evidence and encourage independent research groups to conduct further studies on the potential health effects of aspartame exposure.
The assessments aim to provide clarity on aspartame's safety and its potential implications for consumer health, particularly regarding cancer risk.