Aspartame a possible carcinogen, WHO cancer research agency expected to say

One of the world's most common artificial sweeteners is set to be declared a possible carcinogen.

(Edit- Question from OP: downvoters, do you not want me to post stories like this, or are you expressing disagreement with some of the people in the report?)

livus avatar

From the article:

One of the world's most common artificial sweeteners is set to be declared a possible carcinogen next month by a leading global health body, according to two sources with knowledge of the process, pitting it against the food industry and regulators.

Aspartame, used in products from Coca-Cola diet sodas to Mars' Extra chewing gum and some Snapple drinks, will be listed in July as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" for the first time by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organisation's (WHO) cancer research arm, the sources said.

The IARC ruling, finalised earlier this month after a meeting of the group's external experts, is intended to assess whether something is a potential hazard or not, based on all the published evidence.

It does not take into account how much of a product a person can safely consume. This advice for individuals comes from a separate WHO expert committee on food additives, known as JECFA (the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization's Expert Committee on Food Additives), alongside determinations from national regulators.

However, similar IARC rulings in the past for different substances have raised concerns among consumers about their use, led to lawsuits, and pressured manufacturers to recreate recipes and swap to alternatives. That has led to criticism that the IARC's assessments can be confusing to the public.

JECFA, the WHO committee on additives, is also reviewing aspartame use this year. Its meeting began at the end of June and it is due to announce its findings on the same day that the IARC makes its decision public - on 14 July.

BraveSirZaphod, (edited )
BraveSirZaphod avatar

It does not take into account how much of a product a person can safely consume.

So I'm getting the sense this is about as meaningful as "Known to the state of California to possibly cause cancer".

I'm really not a fan of this extreme level of caution when it comes to public health warnings. There comes a point when people will simply stop listening to you entirely if you constantly tell them that everything they do has some 0.00001% chance of harming them. Then, when you try to warn people about genuinely concerning risks, people will simply ignore you.

livus avatar

I discovered that California cancer thing recently when I bought a keyring tool. Crazy.

stevecrox avatar

Its the way its reported.

A few years back there seemed to be a plethora of studies which were "Consuning <insert hot liquid> increases chance of throat cancer".

You would have to go to the source report (if lucky the bottom of the article) to find out it increased the risk by 0.1% - 0.5%.

When you factor in only 2,300 people in the UK (70 million) get throat cancer each year and the biggest risk factor was smoking and non smokers are pretty much within statistical error bars.

It makes the report uninteresting and only useful in a "someone already looked into this" way and yet a month would go buy and there would be a new article .. who knew chicken soup causes cancer...


It appears it would be classified in the same category as using a cellphone. At this point anything beyond sitting inside and drinking only water will cause cancer.

genoxidedev1 avatar

Sitting inside for too long -> you die
Drink too much water -> you die
You live -> you die

gillrmn avatar

There was research with sugary drinks and cancer back in 1990s and cola companies bought the research to kill them. Basically all processed concentrated sugar causes cancer and obesity so we should limit it.

However, just as oil hid the climate change studies and cola companies killed research on sugar - they will hide the poison from you for profit. Unprocessed food cooked at home will always be better than processed food.

Another fun fact: the tanning light used by popular tanning beds in 2000s was the perfect wavelength to cause cancer.(was very surprising to me when I found out)

Aesculapius avatar

The same thing happened with saccharin. There is a link to cancer in mice, but the dose as a percentage of body weight is very high. There is no way a person could consume that much in a day.

Dose adjusted risk is the true metric here.

Being obese conveys a higher risk of cancer as well.

tallwookie, avatar

that's ok, just switch back to actual sugar. it tastes better and is completely natural.

exscape avatar

Natural and safe are two different things. Arsenic and cyanide are both perfectly natural, as is the most toxic substance known, botulinum toxin.

tallwookie, avatar

that's true!


If they're going to take this stance, I want to see them report actual data about how much is safe to ingest. I remember in the 1980's when JECFA said there's no risk unless you drink dozens of cans of diet soda per day.

The WHO also published (in January 2023) that "when it comes to alcohol consumption , there is no safe amount that does not affect health." They're sounding like an overprotective parent at this point.

(Beg pardon if this double-posts : it didn't seem to show up.)

livus avatar

I can see it and it's not a double post.

Yes that does sound like overkill.


Hopefully this at least means it gets taken out of a lot of drinks. I cannot stand the taste of it, it's bloody horrible. An aftertaste that just lingers.

Bloonface avatar

It gives my partner absolutely banging migraines in more than tiny quantities. I find it gives me huge cravings for junk food about an hour or two after drinking it.

I'd be happy if it disappeared.

livus avatar

Berocca has it for some reason. I'd quite like them to replace it, even though it's been pointed out to me that it's probably fine.


Sucralose does this for me, 99% of "sugar free" stuff has either Sucralose or Aspertame in it, wish more stuff used Erythritol instead.


growing up i'd drink regular soda, but faced with diet soda i'd chose water for this reason. now that i can't have sugar anymore and am actually looking at diet soda, i think stevia leaf is the only good choice out there. just pricy


I'm a big fan of Erythritol - a sugar alcohol with a nearly non-existent glycemic index of like 1. It tastes great and doesn't have terrible side effects like Maltitol does.

Monks fruit from lakanto is a great source of Erythritol.


Erythritol is usually an ingredient in most consumer stevia producs, or dextrose. From the products I've seen anyways. seems mildly concerning enough to just switch one that contains dextrose a filler instead


Just be careful with sugar alcohols (including erythritol)- tolerances vary, but if you overindulge it'll corkscrew your guts like nothing else and turn you into a walking biohazard. Most infamously, sugar free gummi bears are sweetened with this, and while the results are miserable to experience, they do lead to some fantastic reading material...

supermurs avatar

Pepsi Max will be changed forever and I'm not ready for this. :(


Sorry, who said that?





Usernameblankface avatar

Why is a rock band weighing in on health concerns?

trad_animator avatar

Dr Who has a rock band? Since when?...... ok I'll get my coat.


I mean.... Is anyone surprised? I'm not surprised.

livus avatar

I actually am.

Everyone has been saying it is for years, but I was never able to find any hard evidence despite it being the subject of numerous studies.

I feel kind of naive now.

dojan, (edited ) avatar

That's because there hasn't really been any hard evidence. From the article itself:

It has four different levels of classification - carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic and not classifiable. The levels are based on the strength of the evidence, rather than how dangerous a substance is.

"Probably Possibly carcinogenic" is thus the least supported one one can make a ruling with.

Then it all depends on the studies themselves too. Like one study on sunscreens found that oxybenzone caused endocrine disruptions in mice; when force-fed unrealistic amounts of it. Like what does that even tell us? Don't compulsively eat sunscreen, you could get sick?

The chemical was prohibited nonetheless, because generally a "better safe than sorry" approach is taken. These corporations don't want to face massive class-action lawsuits, so you can expect aspartame to be phased out.

livus avatar

Thanks for the explanation! I guess it does make sense to use the precautionary principle.

babelspace avatar

There are circumstances where the precautionary principle is good to apply. But overuse of it has really bad cumulative consequences.

livus avatar

I think that would depend on magnitude if probability was low or indeterminate?

exscape avatar

It's worth pointing out that red meat is one step higher on the list as a probable carcinogen (Class 2A vs Class 2B), as is drinking liquids above 65 C.

One step higher in Class 1 is, among others things, the pill.

Hank_Scorpio avatar

"Probably carcinogenic" is thus the least supported one one can make a ruling with.

gonna go ahead and assume you meant "possibly" carcinogenic?

dojan, avatar

Ack, good catch! Thank you!

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