WHO Declares Common Sweetener as Possible Carcinogen

2 min read

July 14, 2023 – The World Health Organization this week said the artificial sweetener aspartame may cause cancer, but don't abandon your diet soda just yet. 

The move comes after a meeting of WHO research experts called the International Agency for Research on Cancer.  

The agency determined that there's a possible link between between aspartame and liver cancer, it is by no means conclusive, unlike asbestos or tobacco. 

Still, the WHO said people can safely ingest 40 milligrams of aspartame per day per kilogram of body weight. Consider that a can of Diet Coke contains about 200 milligrams of aspartame. That means a 180 pound person (about 82 kilograms) would have to drink more than 16 cans of Diet Coke to meet that limit. 

Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar and was first approved by the FDA in 1974 for use as a tabletop sweetener and in chewing gum, cold breakfast cereals, and products like instant coffee, gelatins, puddings and fillings, and dairy products. Up to 95% of carbonated soft drinks that have a sweetener use aspartame, and the substance is often added by consumers to beverages (it’s the blue packet of sweetener in the array of packets that appear on diner and restaurant tables). 

The WHO currently lists 126 agents as known to be carcinogenic to humans, ranging from alcohol and tobacco to outdoor air pollution. They also list 94 agents as “probably” carcinogenic to humans and 322 agents as “possibly” carcinogenic to humans. Aspartame would join the “possibly” group, which includes gasoline engine exhaust and working as a dry cleaner.

Earlier this year, the WHO warned that people should not use non-sugar sweeteners to control their weight due to potential health risks.