Sweetener: Aspartame “Possibly Carcinogenic”

It’s in soft drinks, snack products, or ready meals. The World Health Organization has now classified the sweetener aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic”. What does it mean? And how dangerous is artificial sweetener?

What do you decide?

The World Health Organization (WHO) IARC, the cancer research agency, has classified the sweetener aspartame as “likely to be carcinogenic”. The decision was taken after a meeting of external experts from the group.

IARC has a total of four different classification levels – carcinogenic, probable carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic and unclassifiable. The levels are based on the strength of the evidence, not the severity of a substance. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies red meat, hot drinks above 65 degrees, or night work as “probably carcinogenic”. The “high frequency electromagnetic fields” associated with cell phone use are classified as “carcinogenic”.

In addition, the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has confirmed the previously allowed daily dose of 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight.

What is aspartame?

Aspartame is a sweetener. Since it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, you only need small amounts of it. Under the abbreviation E 951, it can be found in soft soft drinks, candies, sweets, dairy products, chewing gum, low-calorie products, and weight control products. In the European Union, the product label must state if it contains aspartame.

The sweetener has been studied extensively for decades. In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority appeared FRA to the endthat “aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for the general population (including infants, children, and pregnant women)”. Currently, up to 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day is considered to be harmless. For comparison: a liter of Diet Coke contains about 130 milligrams of aspartame.

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What is the status of the study regarding cancer risk?

“It’s not clear cut, although research has been going on for decades,” says Jutta Hübner, an oncologist at the University Hospital Jena. Last year, a large study out of France involving nearly 100,000 people made headlines. It found that people who consumed higher amounts of artificial sweeteners — including aspartame — had a slightly lower risk of developing cancer. “However, this study has significant methodological shortcomings, which is why it is not very useful,” says Hubner.

Dr. Stefan Kabisch, of the German Center for Diabetes Research, told the Science Media Center that classifying aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic” is unlikely to change anything in our daily use. “The rating is very conservative, meaning that the risk of cancer is in no way certain and not particularly likely. Therefore, the maximum recommended daily dose does not change.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said it evaluated 1,300 studies in its June review. However, according to Hübner, other risk factors that can cause cancer were not adequately taken into account in the vast majority of studies. “This is why I find the IARC decision difficult,” the doctor explains tagesschau.de.

What role does dosage play?

Hubner emphasizes that this is an important question, especially when it comes to everyday food. “Any substance can cause cancer. It’s always a matter of dose.” At normal daily amounts, the risk is considered low by the expert. “I also drink a bottle of light cola without hesitation or put a local tablet in my tea,” says the oncologist.

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The JECFA expert panel has also deemed consumption of aspartame within the ADI safe since 1981. This assessment is largely shared by national regulators, including those in the United States and Europe.

However, Hubner reports a trend in which cancer patients avoid sugar for fear that it will make cancer cells grow faster and instead consume more sweeteners. However, this is not true, because such “cancer diets” can have negative effects on the course of the disease. As the German Cancer Research Center DKFZ writes: “For cancer patients, a balanced diet containing all nutrients – including sugar and carbohydrates in general – is very important.”

Metabolic physician Kabich adds, “It is hoped that the new designation will be received calmly and will not cause consumers to switch from sweeteners to sugar. There is no strong reason to actively avoid sweeteners, but there is also no reason to recommend active sweeteners. The benefit is minimal, and the harm cannot be demonstrated.” clearly.”

How (un)healthy is aspartame and other sweeteners in general?

Sweeteners are a common way to reduce sugar in foods. But they have been criticized for a long time. On the one hand, according to the World Health Organization, it is not suitable for weight loss. Studies have shown that this can help in the short term to lose weight or not gain weight. A new study shows that long-term use increases the risk of weight gain and obesity guideline Global Health Organization. In adults, long-term consumption has been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, among other things.

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In addition, sweeteners are suspected of harming the intestinal flora. So someone showed Stady 2021 Among other things, aspartame can have a negative effect on intestinal bacteria. As a result, some manage to cross the intestinal wall. The authors say that if they get into the bloodstream or other organs, they can cause infections there.

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