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Does aspartame cause cancer? New WHO recommendations

In Washington According to two assessments released Thursday evening by the World Health Organization, aspartame, the widely used artificial sweetener in diet sodas and chewing gum, may probably cause cancer, but the risk appears to be very low for infrequent consumers of these products.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the WHO published the first report, which found “limited evidence” that aspartame may contribute to liver cancer.

The second recommendation, from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), reiterated prior suggestions made by the WHO that the sweetener is typically safeā€”up until very large amounts.

The two groups’ contrasting objectives are to blame for the seemingly incongruous conclusions. The IARC investigates whether a drug has the potential to be harmful and discovered that aspartame may be related to cancer. The second team, JECFA, seeks to determine the likelihood that cancer or other potential risks will really materialize.

During a news conference on Wednesday, WHO representatives underlined that the majority of casual drinkers of sodas like Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi do not need to be concerned about their risk of developing cancer from aspartame.

Director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety Francesco Branca stated that someone who occasionally consumes soda “shouldn’t have a concern [about cancer]”. “We’re not advising businesses to pull their products off the market or consumers to stop buying anything altogether; we’re just suggesting a little moderation.”

WHO representatives issued a warning, however, that youngsters who will more quickly exceed the daily recommended limit of aspartame, which is based on body weight, may be concerned by the report’s findings.

Children may be more at risk, as you correctly stated, said Branca. The WHO recommends that a 44-pound youngster consume around four cans of Diet Coke per day to meet the upper limit.

Branca also advised heavy aspartame users to cut back on their intake, but it’s unknown how many Americans presently use aspartame at levels that are even close to the recommended maximum daily dose, which is 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That implies that a 200-pound person would have to consume more than 18 Diet Coke cans everyday to reach the daily limit.

With regard to those who use the sweetener frequently, Branca remarked that the only obvious advice was to reduce intake.

Due to the modest risk to normal customers, the reports are unlikely to result in fast action from public health authorities or beverage firms, but they will almost certainly result in a major public relations issue.

A senior official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advised the WHO not to perform the two assessments concurrently given the distinct approaches and anticipated divergent conclusions of the two committees in a letter dated August 12, 2022.

The official stated, “We are extremely concerned that conflicting conclusions presented by IARC and JECFA would seriously undermine the faith of the scientific process for both bodies and could further exacerbate the current public skepticism about the validity of science and the scientific process.

IARC’s assessment of a potential cancer risk was based mostly on its study of three sizable observational studies that looked at the association between drinking artificially sweetened beverages, such as diet colas, and liver cancer. These huge studies, however, fail to demonstrate causation, and both WHO groups warned that they include serious errors.

The Working Group came to the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to conclusively rule out chance, bias, or confounding in this collection of studies. As a result, the IARC panel assessed the evidence supporting [liver cancer] to be “limited” in a summary piece that was published Thursday evening in the Lancet. IARC’s complete assessment is anticipated to be released “in the coming months,” according to Mary Schubauer-Berigan, the acting leader of the WHO’s IARC monographs program.

Officials from the WHO stated on Wednesday that they hoped the studies would spur greater investigation into the sweetener’s potential hazards.

“This is really more a call to the research community to try and better clarify and understand the carcinogenic hazard that may or may not be posed by aspartame consumption,” Schubauer-Berigan said.

The new studies come in response to a May WHO assessment that showed there is little evidence that artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, aid in body fat reduction and that they may even raise the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular issues.

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