The Potential Link between Aspartame and Cancer: An Examination of the Facts Surrounding this Sweetener

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The Reality of Aspartame Sweetener

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The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), associated with the World Health Organisation (WHO), has labeled aspartame sweetener as a 'potential carcinogen.' A carcinogen refers to any substance, organism, or agent capable of instigating cancer.

man drinks beverage with paper straw at restaurant

Following these headlines, social media has been inundated with fear-mongering and misinformation, resulting in widespread confusion regarding whether individuals should abandon their diet beverages or not.

The inclusion of aspartame in various food and beverage products has sparked controversy over the years due to its alleged side effects. It has, in fact, been subjected to extensive research as a food additive for over four decades.

Therefore, we have resolved to examine the data and research papers on aspartame, presenting only the unembellished facts.

What Is Aspartame?


Aspartame is among the most prevalent sweeteners utilized by food and beverage manufacturers in the UK. It is found in an assortment of products, including diet drinks, yogurt, and chewing gum. Aspartame consists of amino acids - aspartic acid and phenylalanine - which are naturally present in proteins like meat. It is devoid of calories and approximately 200 times sweeter than regular granulated sugar. However, it is used in small quantities and can be intermittently incorporated in moderation to facilitate weight loss goals.

Is Aspartame Detrimental to Health?

While the IARC has designated aspartame as a 'potential carcinogen,' this determination does not account for dosage. It is important to recognize that the IARC is not a food safety regulatory body.

The prime emphasis of their statement lies in the word 'potential,' and this point should be duly noted. The usage of the term 'possibly causing cancer' signifies that there is an insufficient amount of evidence to support this claim.

Both the European Food Safety Authority and JECFA, an international scientific committee overseen jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WHO, have proclaimed that aspartame is safe for human consumption. JECFA further highlights that an individual weighing 60kg would need to consume 12-36 cans of diet soda daily to face any potential risk.

If you're considering abandoning your diet drinks, it's crucial to question whether your current intake exceeds 12 cans per day. Perhaps you prefer to enjoy one can daily in moderation, which is a simple substitute for the high-sugar version that is also low in calories.

In a study published by the Nutrition Journal, it was determined that consuming soft drinks increased blood pressure compared to non-caloric soft drinks. Therefore, even though we may have good intentions when opting for non-diet versions of beverages, there may be adverse effects associated with consuming the high-sugar options.

JEFCA is currently evaluating the use of aspartame and will announce their findings on July 14 when the IARC makes its decision public. Whether their recommendation of '12-36 cans' per 60kg for adults will change remains to be seen.

Catherine Falls Commercial - Getty ImagesDoes Aspartame Lead to Cancer?

A crucial aspect to consider when interpreting studies is that we, unfortunately, aren't experts in scientific research. Some studies on aspartame, such as the widely discredited example published by Environ Health Perspect on rats, have limitations when applied to humans. For instance, we don't consume aspartame in doses 200 times higher, and we aren't rodents. A study conducted by The University of Maryland supports this point by stating that humans are unlikely to consume the excessive amount of aspartame used on rats.

Additional studies, like the one published in Critical Reviews of Toxicology, have reported no evidence supporting a link between aspartame and cancer in any tissue. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute states in their review that there is little biological or experimental evidence to suggest that aspartame acts as a carcinogen in the human brain.

Is Aspartame Safe?

Yes, aspartame is indeed safe.

According to the Safety of Aspartame, 100 studies, 200 scientists, and 90 countries all concur on this point. For over forty years, the FDA has consistently affirmed that aspartame is safe for human consumption.

The European Food Safety Authority declares that '[Aspartame] has been found to be safe and authorized for human consumption for many years and in many countries following thorough safety assessments.'

The FDA affirms that: 'Aspartame has undergone extensive scrutiny within the human food supply, with over 100 studies providing support for its safety. FDA researchers have thoroughly examined scientific evidence pertaining to aspartame's safety in food and have determined that it is safe for the general public within specific conditions.'

This finding has also been corroborated by:

  • The European Food Safety Authority
  • Health Canada
  • The UK Food Standards Agency
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Food Standards Australia
  • Various esteemed academic research institutions

The consensus concludes that, as long as aspartame is consumed in moderation and adherence to recommendations, it can be safely included in one's diet. While navigating online information, it is important to be discerning, question any misinformation, and make informed decisions for your personal well-being.

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