FAcT sheeT March 2009 Aspartame and cancer Concern has been raised about the potential for aspartame to cause cancer. At least five published robust studies have examined this potential. All have been reviewed by regulators around the world, and all have concluded that aspartame demonstrates no such potential. People concerned about aspartame often cite the findings of the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences (ERF) which considered that its results indicate that aspartame is linked to many different kinds of cancers. However, regulatory authorities, including NZFSA and FSANZ, are satisfied that the science shows that aspartame does not cause cancer. The European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food (the AFC Panel) have found flaws in the ERF study which bring into question the validity of the findings. Aspartame As part of its review of the ERF studies, the AFC Panel examined evaluations of aspartame by the European Scientific Committee on Food and other expert bodies which found no links to cancer; it www.nzfsa.govt.nz also considered an epidemiological study involving New Zealand Food Safety Authority over 100,000 people carried out by the US National 86 Jervois Quay, PO Box 2835, Cancer Institute in which no increase in brain or Wellington, New Zealand blood related cancers was reported to be associated with aspartame consumption; and it reviewed Telephone 04 894 2500 comprehensive studies indicating that aspartame Facsimile 04 894 2501 does not affect DNA. FOOD SAFETY CONCERNS On the basis of all the evidence, the AFC Panel 0800 NZFSA1 (0800 693 721) concluded that there is no reason to revise the previously established ADI for aspartame of 40 mg/ kg bw. The Opinion of the AFC Panel was adopted on 3 May 2006 and is available on Disclaimer www.efsa.europa.eu. The Panel monitors and Every effort has been made to ensure information in this fact sheet is accurate. NZFSA does not accept any responsibility or liability whatsoever evaluates new evidence as it comes to hand, and for any error of fact, omission, interpretation or opinion that may be publishes its findings on wwe.efsa.europa.eu. present, however it may have occurred. Te Pou Oranga Kai o Aotearoa What is aspartame? How much aspartame How is aspartame Aspartame is a low calorie sweetener is too much? regulated in New Zealand? The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) is the amount of an In New Zealand, only those artificial sweeteners listed that has been used as a safe alternative additive that someone could eat in the course of a day, in the Joint Australia/New Zealand Food Standards to sugar in a range of foods, including and every day for their whole lives, without showing Code are permitted, and any listed have been assessed carbonated soft drinks, yoghurt and any adverse health effects. The ADI for aspartame for safety by Food Standards Australia New Zealand was established at 40 milligrams per kilogram of body (FSANZ). Aspartame is one of these. The Food Standards confectionery for more than 25 years. It is weight (40 mg/kg bw) by the Joint Expert Committee on Code also sets out which foods can have aspartame at least 200 times sweeter than sugar. Food Additivies (JECFA). This is one of the highest ADIs added to them. established for any food additive. To exceed the ADI, NZFSA, the New Zealand Ministry of Health and food Permitted levels of sweeteners in foods are established an adult weighing 70 kilograms would have to drink safety authorities around the world believe that aspartame only after taking into account how much is likely to be between 15 and 20 cans of diet carbonated soft drinks has a place in the diet of people who wish to reduce their eaten and the acceptable dietary intake levels set by per day, every day. As ADIs have wide safety margins built intake of sugar – either because they are diabetic or are the (JECFA), a panel of experts convened regularly by into them, even at this level of intake you are unlikely to concerned about their weight. the World Health Organization and the UN Food and experience ill-effects due to aspartame. At this level of Agricultural Organization. (For a full list of sweeteners, consumption, however, you may suffer ill-effects caused by see NZFSA’s fact sheet Intense Food Sweeteners). What happens to other ingredients in the drink. aspartame in the body? Is aspartame approved Aspartame consists of two amino acids (aspartic acid and How do I know if a in other countries? phenylalanine – found naturally in foods that contain food contains aspartame? protein such as meats, grains and dairy products). Amino Yes, aspartame has been approved by all major food Look for the additive numbers 951 or 962, or acids are basic building blocks for proteins in the human authorities around the world, including the European aspartame listed in the ingredients on the label. body. During the digestive process, aspartame is broken Food Safety Authority, the United Kingdom Food There is also a warning statement that the product down into three products - aspartic acid, phenylalanine Standards Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection contains phenylalanine. and methanol. Agency, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the United States Food and Drug Agency. These official These products are absorbed, metabolised further and Aspartame and phenylketonuria government bodies are committed to protecting excreted by normal body processes. Even with relatively Some people have the rare inherited disease consumers in their countries and have found aspartame high doses, the metabolites of this sweetener are not phenylketonuria (PKU) and are advised not to consume to be a safe product. harmful. Methanol, while toxic at high doses, is produced aspartame because they have limited ability to metabolise in such small amounts from ingested aspartame that the the amino acid phenylalanine, which could accumulate to body easily handles it naturally without any problems, as potentially harmful levels. it does with the methanol resulting from the digestion of fats, fruits and vegetables. People with PKU need to follow a very strict diet to limit their intake of phenylalanine, which is also found in all proteins as well as aspartame. All food products containing aspartame or its acesulphame salt are required to state they contain phenylalanine.
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