The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO), revealed that it will release its latest findings on the potential carcinogenic effect of aspartame – an artificial sweetener usually used in soft drinks and food products as a sugar alternative – on July 14.
The announcement has generated a buzz in the media with many incorrectly asserting that aspartame causes cancer. The IARC has not categorically stated that aspartame or artificial sweeteners cause cancer yet – but that it has “assessed the potential carcinogenic effect of aspartame” and will reveal its findings in July.
It must however be explained that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Cancer Society, and the Calorie Control Council among others conclude that aspartame is safe for everyone when it is used as an additive in food products. The agencies said that artificial sweeteners are safe for human consumption and that as with everything else, moderation might be key.
The FDA said that before an adult weighing 150 pounds can experience the negative effects of aspartame, the individual must consume more than 18 cans of zero-sugar soda on a daily basis. President of the Calorie Control Council, Robert Rankin, said the IARC made a misleading claim by insinuating that aspartame is injurious to health.
“Consumers deserve facts, and the fact is aspartame is safe and one of the most widely studied food ingredients, which is why the Calorie Control Council is gravely concerned about any unsubstantiated and misleading assertions that contradict decades of science and global regulatory approvals,” Rankin said.
A research published in the journal Nutrients in 2021 asserted that the long-term consumption of aspartame is difficult to predict. Another study in France in which more than 100,000 participated found that people who consume aspartame or other artificial sweeteners in large quantities for an extended period of time are prone to cancer risks. A few other studies linked the sweetener to headaches, depression, and seizures.
Aspartame became popular in 1981 when it was found to be 200 times stronger than sugar. The organic compound is called methyl ester. Its use grew when researchers found that it does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels and that people with diabetes can consume it without any health effects. It then grew into an industrial substitute for sugar and was used in sugar-free beverages such as Diet Coke, jams or gelatin, chewing gum, condiments, and syrups among other sugar-free consumables.