Can Artificial Sweetener Aspartame Cause Cancer?



Aspartame is commonly used as a tabletop sweetener in prepared foods and beverages, and in recipes that don’t require too much heating (since heat breaks down aspartame). It can also be found as a flavoring in some medicines, chewing gums, and toothpaste.

In July 2023, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B), based on limited evidence it might cause cancer (specifically liver cancer) in people.

However, after completing a dietary exposure assessment, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has concluded that “the evidence of an association between aspartame consumption and cancer in humans is not convincing.”

This conflicting information has created confusion among individuals seeking clarity on the safety of consuming aspartame. Thus, this article aims to unveil the link between Aspartame and cancer.


Can aspartame cause cancer?

To answer this question, it is essential to understand the two determining factors of cancer risk: carcinogenic potency and exposure level.

Carcinogenic potency refers to the potential of a substance itself to cause cancer. IARC classifies carcinogenic potency into four categories: Group 1, Group 2A, Group 2B, and Group 3.

* Group 1: This category includes substances that are classified as "carcinogenic to humans." These substances have sufficient evidence to show that they can cause cancer in humans.

Examples of substances in this category include smoking (tobacco), solar radiation (UV), consumption of alcoholic beverages, ionizing radiation, cadmium, asbestos, diesel engine exhaust, and consumption of processed meat.

In particular, processed meat consumption was classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by IARC in 2018 (Volume 114). Processed meat is defined as any meat that has been modified to enhance flavor or extend shelf life through methods such as salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, and/or the addition of chemical preservatives. Examples include bacon, ham, sausages, salami, corned beef, jerky, hot dogs, luncheon meats, canned meat, chicken nuggets, and meat-based sauces.


* Group 2A: This category includes substances that are classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans." Although there is limited evidence in humans, there is enough evidence from animal studies to suggest a potential carcinogenic effect.

Examples of substances in this category include high-temperature frying emissions, DDT, consumption of red meat, night shift work, and consumption of hot beverages (at temperatures of 65°C or higher).

In particular, consumption of red meat was classified as a Group 2A carcinogen by IARC in 2018 (Volume 114). Red meat, as a nutritional term, refers to meat that appears red before cooking. Examples include beef, pork, lamb, venison, rabbit, and other mammalian meats.


* Group 2B: This category includes substances that are classified as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." There is limited evidence in humans and less consistent evidence from animal studies, indicating a potential carcinogenic effect.

Examples of substances in this category include gasoline engine exhaust, occupational exposure of hairdressers or barbers (regular contact with hair dyes and chemical preparations), lead, titanium dioxide, and consumption of pickled vegetables.

It's important to note that the classification in Group 2B does not definitively establish a substance as a carcinogen, but rather indicates a possibility of carcinogenicity based on the available evidence. Further research and evidence are needed to draw more conclusive conclusions.


* Group 3: This category includes substances that are classified as "not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity in humans." This means that there is inadequate evidence available to determine whether the substance is carcinogenic or not.

Examples of substances in this category include drinking coffee, crude oil, mercury, and inorganic mercury compounds, paracetamol (acetaminophen), tea, and others.

In particular, mercury and inorganic mercury compounds were classified as Group 3 by IARC in 1993 (Volume 58).

It's important to note that being classified in Group 3 does not necessarily mean that a substance is non-carcinogenic, but rather that there is insufficient evidence to make a definitive determination regarding its carcinogenicity in humans.

The report from IARC regarding aspartame states: "IARC has classified aspartame as a possibly carcinogenic substance to humans (Group 2B), based on limited evidence of human cancer (particularly liver cancer). The evidence of cancer in experimental animals is also limited, as is the evidence related to possible carcinogenic mechanisms."

This indicates that the scientific evidence regarding its carcinogenicity in humans is not yet sufficient and further research is needed for verification.


Exposure level refers to the degree and frequency of people's contact or exposure to a substance.

The report from JECFA states: "The conclusion of the evaluation data indicates that there is no sufficient reason to change the previously established Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for aspartame (0-40 mg/kg body weight).

Therefore, the committee reaffirms that the daily intake within this limit is considered safe for an individual. For example, a can of diet soda containing 200 or 300 mg of aspartame, assuming no intake from other food sources, would require the consumption of 9-14 cans or more per day by an adult weighing 70 kg to exceed the ADI."


In conclusion. the current dosage and range of aspartame are considered not to pose health hazards to consumers. This means that under normal usage, people's exposure level is relatively low, reducing potential cancer risks.

Currently, aspartame is approved as a food additive for use by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) and regulatory authorities in various countries including China, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and others. These approvals indicate that these regulatory bodies have deemed aspartame safe for use as a food additive within specified limits.



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