Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced in a statement that it is due to class aspartame, an artificial sweetener, as a “potential carcinogen”.
This decision comes after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced it planned to change the chemical’s standing on its own cancer risk scale. After reviewing more than a thousand studies, the agency is set to label aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic”.
To many, this is a cause for great concern. The sweetener is found in several soft drinks, mints and gum that proudly boast being “sugar-free”, and countless medicines. With doctors screaming from the rooftops about the risks of sugars for more than thirty years, and several governments imposing sugar taxes, it is no surprise aspartame has been consumed by most people. So, did concerns about sugar make us go from one evil to another?
Well, it is very complicated. As with most scientific research, evidence is always to be taken with a grain (if not a whole teaspoon) of salt.
A “possible” carcinogen may sound scary, but all it really does is suggest there is a chance the chemical may cause cancer. Essentially, it leaves us much in the same situation that we were in before some research shows it may cause the illness, and other sources suggest it does not. Only now, large organizations have chosen to acknowledge this doubt.
For every paper showing that aspartame causes cancer in mice (as suggested by research in 2000), there are similar experiments suggesting the exact opposite. Perhaps, then (and at the cost of sounding like a broken record), it is best to adopt moderation. With uncertainty, it is best to play it safe, but there is also no reason why a little bit every so often is wrong.
Just as sugar is not great for you in high quantities, the WHO’s categorization sends a similar message. Instead of ruling sugar out of our diets, we simply abstain from over-consumption. So, it is unlikely the Director General will be knocking at your door every time you crack open a can of Coke Zero.