Aspartame declared possible carcinogen by World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the popular artificial sweetener aspartame as a possible carcinogen.

Aspartame is an artificial (chemical) sweetener widely used in various food and beverage products since the 1980s, including diet drinks, chewing gum, gelatine, ice cream, dairy products such as yogurt, breakfast cereal, toothpaste and medications such as cough drops and chewable vitamins.

From certain diet sodas and juices to some brands of ice creams and chewing gum, aspartame is in a lot of sugar-free products.

Assessments of the health impacts of the non-sugar sweetener aspartame were released last week by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). Citing “limited evidence” for carcinogenicity in humans, IARC classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

So what does this mean, and should you be concerned?

“The artificial sweetener is now considered a possible carcinogen by the WHO’s cancer research agency.* But there are things people do and eat that are known to be carcinogenic, like the excessive consumption of alcohol and smoking.” said Dale Shepard, MD, an oncologist with Cleveland Clinic

Aspartame now falls into the “possibly carcinogenic to humans category” – which means it ranks below known carcinogens, like alcohol and tobacco.

According to the agency, the classification was made based on limited evidence for cancer in humans and more research is needed. However, they said it is safe to consume 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight a day.

For example, an adult weighing 154 pounds would need to drink more than nine to 14 cans of diet soda with aspartame a day to go over the acceptable daily intake.

Despite some confusing and, at times, frightening headlines, the clear takeaway is that the WHO and UN Food & Agriculture Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reaffirmed aspartame is safe. The committee, in fact, found “no convincing evidence” of any health risk, including cancer, from consuming aspartame at or below an amount far greater than what is commonly consumed.**