Norwegian health authorities: Not aware of research indicating that aspartame is dangerous
Rumours are circulating that the WHO will add the substance to the list of carcinogenic agents. Yet another study has now confirmed that there is no link between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and cancer risk in the general population.
Norwegian media reported on Thursday that the World Health Organization (WHO) is likely to include the sweetener aspartame on the list of carcinogenic substances. This was reported by VG and forskning.no via the news broadcasting agency NTB.
The headline is based on two sources who claim to have knowledge of the content of a report being worked on by the WHO, which they shared with the press service Reuters.
The World Health Organization plans to release new reports on the safety of the sweetener aspartame on July 14, according to the American media company Bloomberg.
“Aspartame is safe”
Trine Husøy, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, cannot confirm the veracity of this message.
“Our assessment is that aspartame is safe in the quantities we consume in Norway, based on previous assessments,” she says.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is not aware of any new cancer studies on aspartame, Husøy notes.
“We need to wait to see what the basis is for the conclusion that aspartame may be carcinogenic,” she writes in an email to sciencenorway.no.
Much greater use
Increased awareness of the health effects of sugar has led to a significant increase in the use of artificial sweeteners in recent years.
Substances such as aspartame, sucralose, and stevia are now used in a variety of products, such as soft drinks, juices, yoghurts, jams, and desserts.
There has long been speculation that some of these, including aspartame, may contribute to cancer.
This has been firmly rejected by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU's food panel. They have long believed that aspartame is safe and have dismissed the cancer risk in several reports.
The same goes for the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They write in a statement that aspartame is one of the most studied additives. FDA researchers have also concluded that it is safe for the general population.
Study involving 10,000 cancer patients
The same findings are found in a brand-new Spanish study published in June this year.
The researchers have studied aspartame and other artificial sweeteners and cancer risk.
The study included close to 5,000 cancer patients that had been recently diagnosed and a control group of nearly 3,700 healthy individuals.
Overall, they found no association between artificial sweeteners and cancer risk in general.
Those who use a lot of artificial sweeteners have a less healthy lifestyle than others, according to the Spanish researchers.
For individuals with diabetes, the findings suggest that high intake of the substances is associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer and colorectal cancer. However, there were few cases of this in the study, so the results should be interpreted with caution, the researchers believe.
Not a definitive answer
It is much more likely that individuals with diabetes consume artificial sweeteners from food and drinks, the Spanish researchers point out. They believe that the strong exposure can explain the results.
WHO has previously conducted a review of studies on colorectal cancer and aspartame and found no link. However, WHO has not specifically looked at individuals with diabetes.
Therefore, the Spanish researchers argue that this finding cannot be considered conclusive.
They believe that their results indicate that diabetes status should be carefully considered when researchers study aspartame and cancer in future studies.
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik.
Palomar-Cros et al. Consumption of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners and risk of cancer in the Spanish multicase-control study (MCC-Spain), International Journal of Cancer, 2023. DOI: 10.1002/ijc.34577