From aloe vera to gasoline and even pickled Asian vegetables: 10 more ‘probably carcinogenic’ substances following WHO’s reclassification of aspartame
The sweetener aspartame is now classified as a 2B cancer risk, with the WHO saying around 100 products have been given the same ranking, including food and jobs.
A sweetener used in everyday items from diet soft drinks to yogurt is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’, World Health Organization bosses ruled today.
Aspartame – added to Diet Coke, extra chewing gum and Müller Light yogurt – is now classified as a 2B cancer risk, meaning there is limited but not convincing evidence.
But WHO officials also claim that aspartame does not pose a cancer risk at current consumption levels.
Only those who consume excessive amounts face an elevated risk, the researchers concluded.
About 100 products from common sun cream treatments, food and jobs are given the same ranking as aspartame.
IARC grades the risk as 2B – meaning limited by lack of convincing evidence – putting it in the same category as gasoline engine exhaust fumes, lead and the occupational risks of being a hairdresser – with workers regularly exposed to the chemical.
Aloe vera has been used as a traditional medicine for centuries and is commonly used in skin care, medicine and dietary supplements.
The NHS even recommends using the plant to reduce painful sunburns.
However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the plant as a 2B risk after a two-year study on rats showed that those who drank water containing aloe vera extract were more likely to develop bowel cancer.
Bracken fern, which is native to Britain and commonly found in woodlands, moors and hillsides, poses a similar risk, according to the WHO.
Because animal studies have shown that it increases the risk of colon and bladder cancer.
Other items that fall into the same category include gasoline, certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), and progesterone-only contraceptives.
The 2B classification relates only to how strong the evidence is for a particular substance causing cancer, not how much risk it poses.
Traditional pickled Asian vegetables are also in the same group, as studies have linked the diet to stomach and esophageal cancer.
Additionally, progesterone-only contraceptives, such as the Mini Pill, fall into the same bracket because studies have shown that they slightly increase the risk of breast cancer.
Perineal use of talc-based body powder has been linked to ovarian cancer, leading officials to conclude that there is limited evidence that it may increase the risk of developing the cancer.
On top of these items, some jobs carry similar risks.
Working in the dry cleaning, textile and printing industries poses similar risks due to exposure to chemicals.
A Danish study found that laundry workers had higher rates of liver and gall-bladder cancer, while textile workers may be more susceptible to throat and mouth cancer.
IARC classifies items of carcinogenic risk to humans using a four-point scale, Group 1 meaning ‘there is substantial evidence of carcinogenicity to humans, such as smoking and alcohol’.
Group 2A includes substances for which there is ‘limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans’ but substantial evidence in animal studies, such as emissions from frying and night shift work.
Group 2B includes substances that show ‘limited evidence’ of cancer in humans and ‘less than adequate’ evidence of cancer in animals.
In group 3, ‘insufficient evidence in humans’ and animal studies, such as drinking coffee and paracetamol.
Aspartame – What You Need to Know
What is aspartame?
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that was first developed in the 60s and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar.
This means that less sugar is needed per gram of sugar to get the same sweet result, while products that contain it have fewer calories overall.
Unlike sugar it does not raise blood sugar levels and thus can be used as an alternative source of sweeteners for diabetics.
Chemically it is composed of three substances aspartic acid (40 percent), phenylalanine (50 percent) and methanol (10 percent).
Is it available?
A variety of products market themselves as ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free’.
The most famous examples are soft drink giant Coca-Cola’s diet sodas, Diet Coke and Coke Zero as well as sugar-free gums such as Extra.
Other examples include low-fat yogurt.
Does Coke Zero and Pepsi Max also have aspartame?
Yes. Both products list aspartame in their ingredients list.
Other soft drink brands such as some Fanta flavors, Lucozade and Dr. Pepper also contain artificial sweeteners.
What is the danger?
Aspartame has been linked to common medical problems including headaches, dizziness and upset stomach.
But blind trials, where participants don’t know whether the product they consume contains sweeteners, have failed to replicate this.
But over the years there have been widespread health concerns, including that they cause cancer, alter the gut biome, cause depression and even contribute to obesity by increasing human appetite.
However, health and food regulators have repeatedly declared them safe to use following ‘rigorous safety assessments’.
There is one exception, which is for people with phenylketonuria, a rare inherited condition.
People with phenylketonuria cannot process phenylalanine, an amino acid that is one of the building blocks of aspartame.
If people with phenylketonuria take phenylalanine, it can build up in their blood and eventually damage their vital organs.
This is why aspartame must be listed as an ingredient that contains it.
Only one in 10,000 people have the condition.