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Context: A new report by the World Health Organization found that Aspartame, a common sweetener in soda and other beverages, may increase the risk of liver cancer.
- The report, based on three large-scale studies in the U.S. and Europe, found that people who consumed high amounts of artificially sweetened drinks had a higher chance of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer.
- The report also said that aspartame is safe to use within the recommended daily limit, which is 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.
- Aspartame is a common sugar substitute that the food industry uses because of its high sweetness and low-calorie content. It can achieve a similar taste to sugar with much less quantity, as it is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
- It is used to reduce the calories and sugar content of these products. However, some studies have suggested that aspartame may have a link to cancer.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization, recently classified aspartame as a possible human carcinogen, based on three studies that found an increased risk of blood cancers in people who consumed high amounts of the artificial sweetener.
- However, some senior officials at IARC cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive and more research is needed to confirm or refute the findings.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the safety of food additives, disagree with IARC’s conclusion and maintains that aspartame is safe for human consumption. The FDA reviewed the same evidence as IARC in 2021 and found significant flaws in the studies, according to an agency spokesperson.
Aspartame and cancer: what does the science say?
- A group of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (U.N.) has reviewed the latest scientific evidence on aspartame, a widely used artificial sweetener, and its possible link to cancer.
- The group called the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that there is no convincing proof that aspartame causes cancer in humans. However, they also advised people to limit their intake of aspartame to avoid potential health risks.
- According to JECFA, the safe level of aspartame consumption is 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. This means that an adult who weighs 70 kilograms can consume up to 2.8 grams of aspartame per day without any adverse effects. This is equivalent to about nine to 14 cans of diet soda that contain aspartame.
- JECFA also warned that children may easily exceed this limit by drinking just three cans of diet soda per day. They said that more research is needed to understand the long-term effects of aspartame exposure from early childhood. They also suggested that parents should encourage their children to drink water instead of soda or other sweetened beverages.
- JECFA did not recommend banning or removing aspartame from the market, but they urged the food industry to explore alternative ways of making products without using artificial sweeteners.
- They said that consumers should be aware of the amount of aspartame they consume and choose foods and drinks that are low in sugar and calories.
- Artificial sweeteners are substances that are used to replace sugar in foods and beverages. They are also known as sugar substitutes or intense sweeteners because they are much sweeter than regular sugar.
- Artificial sweeteners can be synthetic or natural, but most of them are derived from chemical processes.
- The first artificial sweetener, saccharin, was discovered in 1879 by accident when a chemist noticed a sweet taste on his fingers after working with a compound called benzoic sulfimide.
- Saccharin was widely used during World War I and II when sugar was scarce and rationed. Later, other artificial sweeteners such as cyclamate, aspartame, sucralose, and stevia were developed and approved for use in various countries.
- Artificial sweeteners have different features depending on their chemical structure, sweetness intensity, stability, and metabolism.
Common Artificial Sweeteners
- It is 300 to 500 times sweeter than sugar and has a bitter aftertaste. It is stable under heat and acidic conditions, so it can be used in cooking and baking. It is not metabolized by the body and is excreted unchanged in the urine.
- It is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has a similar taste. It is not stable under heat and acidic conditions, so it cannot be used in cooking and baking. It is metabolized by the body into phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol, which can cause adverse effects in some people with phenylketonuria (PKU) or high blood levels of methanol.
- It is 600 times sweeter than sugar and has no aftertaste. It is stable under heat and acidic conditions, so it can be used in cooking and baking. It is not metabolized by the body and is excreted unchanged in the faeces.
- It is derived from a plant native to South America and is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. It has a liquorice-like aftertaste that some people may find unpleasant. It is stable under heat and acidic conditions, so it can be used in cooking and baking. It is metabolized by the body into steviol glycosides, which are considered safe by most health authorities.
Potential benefits for human health
- Reducing calorie intake: Artificial sweeteners provide sweetness without adding calories, which can help people control their weight and prevent obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Preventing tooth decay: Artificial sweeteners do not cause tooth decay because they are not fermented by bacteria in the mouth like sugar.
- Managing blood sugar levels: Artificial sweeteners do not affect blood sugar levels because they are not absorbed or metabolized by the body like sugar. This can help people with diabetes or prediabetes manages their blood glucose levels.
Potential drawbacks to human health
- Causing adverse effects: Artificial sweeteners may cause adverse effects in some people, such as headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, allergic reactions, mood changes, or behavioural problems. Some studies have also suggested that artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of cancer, but the evidence is inconclusive and controversial.
- Altering taste preferences: Artificial sweeteners may alter taste preferences by making people crave more sweetness or lose their sensitivity to natural sweetness. This may lead to overconsumption of sugary foods or beverages or reduced intake of nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables.
- Affecting gut microbiota: Artificial sweeteners may affect the gut microbiota, which are the beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive tract. Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners may change the composition and function of the gut microbiota, which may have implications for metabolic health, immune system, and brain function.
- Artificial sweeteners are widely used in food products and beverages around the world. They offer a convenient way to enjoy sweetness without adding calories or affecting blood sugar levels. However, they also pose some challenges to human health that need further research and regulation. It can be a short-term way to help some people lessen their use of sugar and lose or manage weight. However, they are not a magic solution for health problems and they should be used in moderation. People should also eat a balanced diet that includes natural sources of sweetness such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
Q. 10. Which of the following statements is true about artificial sweeteners and weight loss?
A) Artificial sweeteners can help reduce calorie intake and promote weight loss.
B) Artificial sweeteners can increase appetite and cravings for sugary foods and beverages.
C) Artificial sweeteners do not affect weight loss or gain.
D) Artificial sweeteners can have different effects on weight loss depending on individual factors and dietary Patterns.
Explanation: Artificial sweeteners can be a short-term way to help some people lessen their use of sugar and lose or manage weight. However, they may also have negative effects on appetite, metabolism, gut bacteria and food preferences. The overall impact of artificial sweeteners on weight loss may vary depending on the person and the type, amount and frequency of consumption.