Williams Cancer Institute

Aspartame and Cancer

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, sold under different brand names, that has been in use in the United States since the early 1980s. Aspartame is extensively used as a low-calorie sweetener because it provides a sweet taste without contributing to the caloric content of food or beverages, making it an attractive option for individuals looking to reduce their sugar intake or manage their weight. It can also be found as a flavoring in some medicines, chewing gums, and toothpaste. The FDA has set the acceptable dose intake for aspartame at 50 milligrams per kilogram (1 kg=2.2 lb) of body weight per day (50 mg/kg/day), meaning that a 60 kg (132 lb) person would have to consume about 75 packets of aspartame in a day to reach this dose.

Concerns about aspartame causing several health problems, including cancer, have existed for many years. Some of the concerns about cancer stem from the results of studies in lab rats published by a group of Italian researchers in the late 2000s, which suggested aspartame might increase the risk of some blood-related cancers, such as leukemias and lymphomas, and other types of cancer.

In July, it was listed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” for the first time by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research arm. IARC classifies aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B). Based on limited evidence, it might cause cancer, specifically liver cancer, in people. IARC also notes there is limited evidence for cancer in lab animals and limited evidence related to possible mechanisms for it causing cancer.

JECFA, an international expert committee run jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WHO, assesses the risk that a specific type of harm, such as cancer, will occur in certain situations, considering how, how often, and how much people might be exposed to a food additive. It has concluded that dietary exposure to aspartame is not a health concern.

The results of epidemiologic studies (studies of groups of people) of possible links between aspartame and cancer (including blood-related cancers) have not been consistent for most cancers.

As with any food additive, some people may experience mild side effects or have concerns about its safety. However, extensive scientific studies have been conducted to evaluate the safety of aspartame, and it is considered safe for the general population when consumed within the acceptable daily intake levels set by regulatory agencies. More studies on the correlation between aspartame and cancer need to be done, including other artificial sweeteners.

If you have specific health concerns or questions about aspartame, it is always best to consult a qualified healthcare professional.

Reference:  Jennifer Rigby, Richa Naidu, July 13, 2023, Exclusive: WHO’s cancer research agency to say aspartame sweetener a possible carcinogen, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/chemicals/aspartame.html, https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/whos-cancer-research-agency-say-aspartame-sweetener-possible-carcinogen-sources-2023-06-29/

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