The World Health Organization says aspartame has been linked to cancer in humans

The World Health Organization agency announced Thursday that aspartame, an artificial sweetener widely used in diet drinks and low-sugar foods, can cause cancer.

However, a second WHO committee remained steadfast in its assessment of a safe level of aspartame consumption. According to some calculations using the panel standard, a person who weighs 150 pounds can avoid the risk of cancer but still drink about 12 diet sodas per day.

The WHO agency’s announcement on the cancer risk linked to aspartame reflects the first time that a prominent international body has publicly weighed the effects of an artificial sweetener nearly everywhere. Aspartame has been a controversial ingredient for decades.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, said it based its conclusion that aspartame was a possible carcinogen on limited evidence from three observational studies in humans that the agency said linked consumption of artificially sweetened beverages to an increased incidence of liver cancer. At levels well below a dozen cans a day. She cautioned that the results could be skewed towards people who drank larger amounts of diet drinks, and called for more study.

However, people who consume large amounts of aspartame should consider switching to water or other unsweetened beverages, said Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety.

But, he added, “our results do not indicate that occasional consumption should pose a risk to most people.”

Concerns about rising global rates of obesity and diabetes as well as changing consumer preferences have led to an explosion of sugar-free and low-sugar foods and beverages. Aspartame, one of six sweeteners approved by US regulators, is found in thousands of products, from packets of sugar-free gum, diet sodas, teas, energy drinks, and even yogurts. It is also used to sweeten many pharmaceutical products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has approved aspartame for decades, on Thursday issued an unusual criticism of the global agency’s findings and reiterated its long-held position that the sweetener is safe. In a statement, the FDA said it “does not agree with the IARC’s conclusion that these studies support the classification of aspartame as a probable human carcinogen.”

The FDA also said that “the classification of aspartame by the World Health Organization as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ does not mean that aspartame is actually linked to cancer.” The FDA refused to make any of its experts available for interviews to discuss the agency’s specific concerns.

But its launch against the international organization was sure to spark more controversy in Europe – where the sweetener is still safe – and renewed review in the United States. Disputing global agencies’ statements are likely to confuse consumers.

Global Health Organization. Sometimes he did not agree with other authorities about potential cancer risks, such as glyphosate, and later led the way toward establishing that it was dangerous to humans health. The international panel’s classification of the cancer link to this ingredient in Roundup, a weed killer, has become a launching pad for lawsuits against herbicide makers.

Around the world, the strong drink industry has fought long and hard against any regulatory or scientific finding linking the use of artificial sweeteners to risks of cancer or other health problems. Aspartame is just the latest battleground for multinational corporations to resist new studies or potential links to health risks.

“Aspartame is safe,” Kevin Kane, interim president of the American Beverage Association, said in a statement. He cited the World Health Organization’s dueling declarations, which singled out the second committee, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, which conducted a concurrent review and left the recommended daily intake unchanged. The WHO summary also said that the evidence for cancer in humans was “unconvincing”.

“After a rigorous review, the World Health Organization found aspartame to be safe and “there is insufficient reason to change the previously established tolerable daily intake,” said Mr. Kane. “This strong conclusion strengthens the position of the Food and Drug Administration and food safety agencies from more than 90 countries.”

Coca-Cola referred questions to the American Beverage Association and PepsiCo did not respond to requests for comment.

The safety of sugar substitutes, including the decades-old scientific controversy over the use of saccharin in diet drink tabs, has been vigorously scrutinized. Once linked to bladder cancer in mice, Congress commissioned further study of saccharin. since then, According to the Food and Drug Administration, 30 studies showed that findings for rodents do not apply to humans; US officials Removal Saccharin is off the list of possible carcinogens. Recently, other sweeteners have come under scrutiny for their association with potential health risks.

At the heart of the controversy over aspartame are rodent studies from 2005-2010 by researchers based in Italy that showed a link to cancer. The US Food and Drug Administration dismissed the long-discussed studies as “compromise. “

Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, which led one of the major studies relied upon by the WHO, said the findings should be taken into account along with a WHO report earlier this year that noted that Artificial sweeteners have not provided any weight loss aid. or protection from other chronic diseases.

There is little evidence now to suggest that consuming a diet cola daily would increase the risk of cancer, he said, adding that “more research is needed.” He said the science has generally been more specific about reducing cancer risk by avoiding tobacco, alcohol, processed meats, and being overweight.

The IARC said it could not rule out the possibility that the studies linking aspartame to liver cancer were the result of chance or other factors associated with drinking diet soda.

The World Health Organization’s cancer agency has four categories: carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic and has no classification. These levels reflect the strength of the science, not how likely a substance is to cause cancer.

The WHO’s other group on food additives has recommended that daily intake should be less than 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of a person’s weight – slightly below the US suggested level of 50 milligrams.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it estimated that a person weighing 132 pounds would need to consume 75 packets of aspartame sweetener in order to Threshold reach exposure to potential risks.

To review aspartame, IARC met 25 Cancer experts from 12 countries in Lyon, France, for a review of existing studies. It concluded that there is limited evidence of cancer in humans based on three studies linking artificially sweetened beverages with increases in hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer.

One Stady In 2016, WHO officials, who looked at nearly 500,000 people in Europe who were followed for about 11 years, led the way. The study tracked the participants’ juice and soft drink intake and its association with liver and bile duct cancer. It examined those who drank artificially sweetened soft drinks and found that each additional serving of diet soft drink per week was associated with a 6 percent increased risk of liver cancer.

a American study Published last year by researchers from Harvard University, Boston University and the National Cancer Institute, they examined the consumption of sweetened beverages reported by people in questionnaires and cancer case records. Researchers found an increased risk of liver cancer in diabetics who said they consumed two or more artificially sweetened soft drinks a day. That study found no increase in liver cancer among diet soda drinkers who did not have diabetes.

A third study, led by the American Cancer Society, examined the use of sugar-sweetened beverages and artificial sweeteners and data on deaths from cancer. It found a 44 percent increase in liver cancer among men who never smoked and drank two or more artificially sweetened beverages a day. The data in the study’s appendix showed that even adjusting for a higher body mass — itself a risk factor for cancer — men had a 22 percent increase in risk.

The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, has been blunt in saying that the World Health Organization’s Committee on Food Additives — not cancer experts — should be the leading authority on evaluating aspartame.

In recent weeks, the beverage industry trade group funded a New alliance Led by Alex Azar, appointed by former President Donald J. Trump, and Donna Shalala, appointed by former President Bill Clinton. Both Mr. Azar and Ms. Shalaleh are former Secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services. in Opinion article In Newsweek earlier this month, the two endorsed the FDA’s stance on aspartame’s safety, calling the agency “the global gold standard for independent regulators.”

The trade group previously objected to another review of aspartame’s potential cancer links in California. In 2016, the State Committee discussion reviewed a review of aspartame, but it did not go further.

California officials said this week that the state may review the WHO’s latest decision.

Besides aspartame, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency has deemed other possible carcinogens to range from seemingly benign, such as ginkgo biloba extract and aloe vera leaf extract, to substances of more concern, such as benzene fume and perfluorooctanoic acid, the most common of industrial chemicals. Known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, they have recently been the subject of multibillion-dollar settlements over contamination of drinking water.

In considering aspartame a possible carcinogen, IARC also plunged into one of the controversies central to aspartame research. It concluded there was some evidence of cancer in lab animals based on studies conducted by the Ramazzini Institute in Italy, citing the team’s finding of increased tumorigenesis in studies of aspartame since the mid-2000s. Based on concerns about the group’s methods and interpretations, results were considered limited.

For its part, the Ramazzini Institute He said in 2021 that her work on aspartame had been validated and that her previous findings had been “savagely attacked by the chemical and processed food industries and by their allies in regulatory agencies.”

Dr Branca of the World Health Organization answered questions about the need for a review of the IARC during a news conference Wednesday, saying that 10 million people die from cancer each year. “So there is a societal concern that our organization must respond to,” he said.

He said the findings showed a clear need for more high-quality research.

“We’ve raised the flag somewhat here, which suggests we need to clarify more on the situation,” said Dr. Branca. “It’s not something we can refuse at this moment.”

Julie Creswell contributed to this article.