Aspartame is getting a critical look from the World Health Organization.
An official announcement is expected in a couple of weeks, but leaks to Reuters from WHO advisors suggest the health organization could declare the artificial sweetener carcinogenic.
Aspartame can be in everything from chewable vitamins, sugar free salad dressings, light yogurts, or diet drinks. Aspartame is something called a nonnutritive sweetener. It is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar.
There's long been a back-and-forth in the medical research community about a possible link between aspartame and cancer, but there's nothing conclusive.
In May, the WHO issued new recommendations advising against the long term use of artificial sweeteners — including aspartame — to lose weight because they increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early death.
Currently, two WHO advisory groups are focusing on aspartame:
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC): This group looks at scientific research to determine if a chemical could cause cancer in humans. They do not reflect how high the risk of developing cancer is at a given exposure level.
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives Programme (JECFA): This group looks at the risk level and what amount is safe or dangerous. FAO is short for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a specialized agency of the United Nations the the UN says works to "defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security."
The IARC has different levels of classifications, ranging from "not classifiable" to "carcinogenic in humans".
Reuters reports that IARC would be listed at 2B — "possibly carcinogenic to humans." Other examples of 2B materials include gasoline, titanium dioxide, and aloe vera leaf extract.
Both the IARC and JECFA findings will come out at the same time on July 14th. They are also expected to be published in the Lancet medical journal, according to an IARC spokesperson.
The American Beverage Association is already fighting back, issuing a statement that says in part:
"The fact that food safety agencies worldwide, including the FDA, continue to find aspartame safe makes us confident in the safety of our products."
The FDA and European authorities say up to 40 and 50 milligrams a day of aspartame is safe. That's about 12 diet soda's every day.
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