The WHO now considers aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in sodas, to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, but the daily dose considered safe remains unchanged, it said.
“We are not advising companies to withdraw their products, nor are we advising consumers to completely stop using them,” the D said.r Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition, Health and Development of the WHO, during the presentation of two evaluations of this sweetener.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) has for the first time assessed the level of danger of aspartame. Meeting from June 6 to 13, these experts concluded that the sweetener “was possibly carcinogenic to humans” (group 2B of the classification).
According to Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, “the general public should not be concerned about the cancer risk associated with a Group 2B chemical.”
Other products classified in this group include aloe vera extract or caffeic acid, it says.
9 to 14 cans per day
The decision to place aspartame in this group was made based on “limited indications” for cancer in humans, specifically, for hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a type of liver cancer, according to the WHO. .
Limited evidence has also been observed for cancer in laboratory animals.
“The limited evidence for hepatocellular carcinoma comes from three studies” conducted in the United States and ten European countries. These are the only epidemiological studies looking at liver cancer, said Dr.r Mary Schubauer-Berigan, IARC.
According to the Dr Branca, additional studies are needed “to further clarify the situation”.
The Joint Committee of Experts on Food Additives of WHO and FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Agency) met from June 27 to July 6 to assess the risks associated with with aspartame.
It concluded that the data assessed did not provide sufficient grounds to justify changing the acceptable daily intake established since 1981 to a maximum of 40 mg per kilogram of body weight and therefore that a person can consume aspartame “without risk”. within the limit of this daily quantity.
With a can of “diet” soft drink containing 200 or 300 mg of this sweetener, an adult weighing 70 kg would need to consume more than 9 to 14 cans per day to exceed the acceptable daily intake, assuming no other aspartame intake from other food sources.
“The problem arises for heavy consumers” of products containing aspartame, he said, but “our results do not indicate that occasional consumption poses a risk”.
This nutrient-dense sweetener has been widely used since the 1980s as a table-top sweetener. It is incorporated into low-calorie beverages such as “diet” liqueurs, ready meals, chewing gum, gelatin, ice cream and breakfast cereals, as well as medications, such as lozenges against cough, and other products such as toothpaste.
Reacting to these studies, the International Sweeteners Association (ISA) pointed out that Group 2B puts aspartame in the same category as kimchi and other pickled vegetables.
The joint committee “has once again reaffirmed the safety of aspartame after conducting a thorough, comprehensive and scientifically rigorous review,” noted ISA Secretary General Frances Hunt-Wood.
But for Camille Dorioz, campaign manager for the Foodwatch association, the WHO announcement “has a bitter taste” because he judges that “a possibly carcinogenic sweetener has no place in our food or drinks”.
Beyond cancer, the WHO recently reported that artificial sugar-free sweeteners are of no benefit for weight loss.
If you have to choose “between a cola with sweetener and a cola with sugar, I think a third option should be considered: drinking water”, slipped the Dr Branca.