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WHO Classifies Aspartame as “Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans”

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WHO Classifies Aspartame as "Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans"

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener that is taken by millions of people every day as a sugar substitute in goods such as diet soft drinks, has long been the subject of heated controversy about its health effects.

On Friday, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO) classified aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” finding “limited evidence” of a relationship to cancer.

However, the WHO stated that it will not adjust its maximum level of recommended daily aspartame intake and that more research is required.

Here’s a quick primer on the sweetener.


What exactly is aspartame?

Aspartame is made up of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid.

It was found by coincidence in 1965 by a chemist working for the Searle pharmaceutical company while looking for an ulcer therapy.

Aspartame provides the same amount of energy as sugar (around four calories per gramme), but it is 200 times sweeter.

This means that a far less amount can be used to substitute sugar and sweeten food while maintaining a low calorie level.

Aspartame is neither the first or only artificial sweetener on the market.

Saccharin, discovered in 1879, is also used to sweeten products artificially, however it has a harsh aftertaste.

Other more natural sweeteners, such as stevia (derived from plant leaves), have gained favour in recent years.

Aspartame is used in thousands of goods around the world, many of which are promoted as diet, light, or zero-calorie.


Soft drinks, chewing gum, candies, jelly, yoghurts, dairy products, cough drops, toothpaste, and store-bought desserts all contain aspartame. It is also used to make tabletop sweeteners that are often mixed into tea and coffee.

It’s even added to over 600 medications as a sweetener to help the pill go down.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States allowed the use of aspartame for the first time in 1974, a decision that sparked outrage almost immediately.

The next year, aspartame’s approval was revoked after animal research revealed that it was potentially hazardous and carcinogenic.

The FDA re-approved its usage in 1981, stating that the amount consumed by people was much below the limit even suspected of being harmful.

WHO Classifies Aspartame as "Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans"

In 1983, Aspartame was approved for usage in beverages. Since then, the sweetener has been approved in over 90 nations.

Aspartame’s maximum tolerable daily consumption has been set at 40 milligrammes per kilogramme of body weight per day by the WHO and other international health agencies.

If one can of diet soft drink contains 200-300 milligrammes of aspartame, an adult weighing 70 kilogrammes would need to consume nine to fourteen cans a day to exceed their daily limit.

Why is aspartame so divisive?

Rarely in food history has a product sparked as much debate and controversy.

According to a 2010 study conducted by Italian experts, aspartame promotes liver and lung cancer in male mice.

Meanwhile, a Danish study published in 2010 discovered a link between artificially sweetened beverages and premature births among pregnant women.

Previous animal study has been challenged for feeding them significantly more aspartame than people would ordinarily ingest.

Most human studies have been observational, which means they cannot directly attribute the reason to aspartame – and other lifestyle factors cannot be excluded out.

Following a thorough investigation, the European Food Safety Authority decided in 2013 that aspartame and its related products are safe for the general public as long as the acceptable daily dosage is not exceeded.

The World Health Organisation issued new guidelines in May advising against the use of all non-sugar sweeteners, claiming that the existing research indicates they do not aid in long-term weight loss and may be connected to an increased risk of diabetes and heart issues.

The CTNNews editorial team comprises seasoned journalists and writers dedicated to delivering accurate, timely news coverage. They possess a deep understanding of current events, ensuring insightful analysis. With their expertise, the team crafts compelling stories that resonate with readers, keeping them informed on global happenings.

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