Geneva, July 14 (BNA): The World Health Organization’s cancer agency has deemed the sweetener aspartame — found in diet soda and countless other foods — a “probable” cause of cancer, while a separate expert group looking into the same evidence still considers it. A safe sugar substitute in limited quantities.
The various results of the coordinated reviews were released early Friday. One came from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is a special branch of the World Health Organization.
The other report was from a panel of experts chosen by the World Health Organization and another group affiliated with the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization, according to the Associated Press today.
The Lyon-based Cancer Agency, which is based in France, periodically reviews potential cancer risks, but does not specify how likely it is to cause cancer in its ratings, which range from “likely” carcinogenic to “likely” to carcinogenic.
Aspartame joins a class of more than 300 other potential carcinogens, including things like aloe vera extract, Asian-style pickled vegetables, and chives.
However, the guidelines for using the sweetener do not change. “We are not advising consumers to stop eating (aspartame) completely,” said WHO’s director of nutrition, Dr Francesco Branca. “We just advise a little moderation.”
Aspartame is a low-calorie artificial sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is an odorless white powder and the most widely used artificial sweetener in the world.
Aspartame is licensed as a food additive in Europe and the United States and is used in many foods and beverages such as Diet Cola, candies, chewing gum, medicines including cough drops, and foods intended to aid weight loss. It is found in tabletop sweeteners sold as Equal, Sugar Twin, and NutraSweet.
Aspartame was approved in 1974 by the US Food and Drug Administration with an acceptable daily intake of 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a person who weighs 132 pounds (60 kilograms) would need to consume about 75 packets of aspartame to reach this level.
United Nations experts evaluated the safety of aspartame in 1981 and set the safe daily limit slightly lower, at 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram.
David Spiegelhalter, professor emeritus of statistics at the University of Cambridge, said the guidance means that “average people are safe to drink up to 14 cans of a diet drink per day…and even this ‘acceptable daily limit’ has a significant internal safety factor.”
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