Possible Carcinogen: World Health Organization Raises Concerns About Aspartame Found in Diet Coke and Other Foods

Aspartame, the artificial sweetener commonly found in Diet Coke and other sugar-free foods, has been declared a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. The announcement was made on Thursday. However, the WHO’s Expert Committee on Food Additives, a separate group, did not change their recommended safe daily intake of aspartame, which is 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for adults weighing around 154 pounds. This is equivalent to the amount found in approximately 14 cans of Diet Coke. In comparison, the US Food and Drug Administration has set a slightly higher daily limit of 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for adults weighing about 132 pounds.

Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, stated that the WHO decision should be seen as a slight warning, rather than a directive to completely avoid consuming aspartame. He advised consuming the sweetener in moderation for it to be considered safe. Aspartame is present in over 5,000 foods and drinks, and is significantly sweeter than sugar. It was approved by the FDA in 1974 as a tabletop sweetener and ingredient in a wide range of products, such as gum, cereals, instant coffee, and dairy.

Studies on the connection between aspartame and cancer have not yielded conclusive evidence of causation. Most of these studies have been conducted on animals rather than humans, making it challenging to determine the extent of the risk for humans. For example, a 2020 study found a higher incidence of leukemia and lymphoma in mice who consumed aspartame, but the doses given to the mice were almost quadruple their body weight, making it an inaccurate measurement for human risk. Additionally, studies from the 1980s found no evidence linking aspartame to brain tumors or bladder cancer in rats. However, a recent French study involving over 100,000 adults discovered a slight increase in the risk of cancer associated with consuming large quantities of artificial sweeteners.

Although the WHO’s announcement may suggest that aspartame is worse than other artificial sweeteners, Popkin believes that all diet sweeteners should be treated equally given that they could potentially be linked to negative health effects. There is evidence linking artificial sweeteners to a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. As for using artificial sweeteners as a weight-loss strategy, the WHO advised against it as they have not been proven to reduce body fat in the long term. It is recommended to consume a natural, healthy diet with naturally sweet foods instead.

In conclusion, the WHO’s classification of aspartame as a possible carcinogen has raised concerns about the safety of consuming Diet Coke and other products containing the artificial sweetener. However, experts suggest that moderate consumption of aspartame is still considered safe, as conclusive evidence linking it to cancer is lacking. It is essential to limit the intake of artificial sweeteners and prioritize a balanced diet consisting of natural, healthier options.