Most foods and beverages containing aspartame are advertised as “healthy” or “dietary” alternatives to sugar-containing foods. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the anti-cancer arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently reported that aspartame is likely to be declared a “possible carcinogen for humans.”
Aspartame was discovered in 1965, it has zero calories, and at the same time it is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar. But the ability of products containing this artificial sweetener to reduce the risk of diabetes or obesity has never been confirmed. On the contrary, some data suggest that the taste of both sugar-containing and artificially sweetened beverages increases the feeling of hunger and, as a result, causes weight gain.
Worldwide, aspartame can be found in more than 6,000 products, including food and beverages, cough drops and some toothpastes, indicating the ubiquitous presence of this chemical.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the permissible daily dose of aspartame is 50 mg/kg, while European regulatory authorities recommend not to exceed 40 mg/kg of aspartame for both adults and children.
After consuming aspartame, this chemical is hydrolyzed and absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. This process leads to the release of methanol, aspartic acid and phenylalanine.
Methanol metabolism begins in the liver, where it is first oxidized to formaldehyde, and then again to formic acid. In addition to direct damage to the liver by methanol, formaldehyde is also directly toxic to liver cells and is associated with carcinogenic properties.
A huge number of in vivo and in vitro studies pointing to the potential role of aspartame in the development of cancer has prompted many regulatory bodies, such as the IARC, to reconsider the safety of aspartame for human consumption.