WHO to declare artificial sweetener aspartame a probable carcinogen

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently indicated that aspartame would likely be declared a “probable carcinogen to humans”.

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What is aspartame?

After decades of research on artificial sweeteners (ASWs) to reduce obesity and diabetes rates, aspartame was discovered in 1965 and finally brought to market in 1981. Aspartame is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar and, as a result, does not increase. Calorific value of food and beverage products.

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for aspartame is 50 mg/kg, while European regulatory bodies recommend an ADI of 40 mg/kg for aspartame for both adults and children. . Worldwide, aspartame can be found in more than 6,000 products, including food and beverages, cough drops and some toothpastes, thus indicating the ubiquitous nature of this chemical in many everyday items.

Although most food and beverage products containing aspartame are advertised as ‘healthy’ or ‘diet’ alternatives to sugar-sweetened products, the ability of these products to reduce the risk of diabetes or obesity has never been confirmed. Is. Instead, some evidence suggests that the taste of both sugar and artificially sweetened beverages increase the sensation of hunger and, as a result, lead to weight gain.

Does aspartame cause cancer?

After aspartame is consumed, this chemical is hydrolyzed and absorbed in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This process leads to the secretion of methanol, aspartic acid and phenylalanine.

The metabolism of methanol begins in the liver, where it is first oxidized to formaldehyde and then to formic acid. In addition to direct liver damage from methanol, formaldehyde is also directly toxic to liver cells and has been associated with carcinogenic properties.

Several studies have investigated the carcinogenic potential of aspartame. For example, a study on rats found that exposure to aspartame early in life increased the risk of rat pups developing cancer later.

huge number of Live And in vitro Studies indicating a possible role of aspartame in the development of cancer have prompted several regulatory agencies, such as the IARC, to reconsider the safety of aspartame for human consumption. Likewise, the results of these studies have also supported human studies, which are largely scarce.

In a recent French population-based study, researchers reported an increased risk of cancer with aspartame consumption. These individuals were found to be at particularly high risk for obesity-related cancers, including breast cancer and colorectal, stomach, liver, oral, pharyngeal, larynx, esophageal, ovarian, endometrial, and prostate cancers.

These findings support the unique effect of aspartame on specific cancer risks. While aspartame does not affect the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, men who consume aspartame are at a higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Other Health Effects of Aspartame

The anticipated IARC decision will increase concerns among consumers about the consumption of aspartame products. Thus, in addition to reducing the risk of developing cancer by reducing or eliminating the consumption of aspartame products, consumers will also be protected from various other potential health effects of aspartame.


During pregnancy, it is important for mothers to consume a healthy diet to ensure proper development of the fetus as well as the overall health of the mother. Previous studies have shown that ASW consumption during pregnancy may increase the risk of preterm delivery and allergic diseases in the fetus.

several Live Studies have also reported a wide range of teratogenic effects associated with the consumption of aspartame during pregnancy, some of which include adverse glucose and insulin tolerance, altered intestinal microbiota composition, excess weight gain, as well as increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases. include an increased risk of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and hormone-related cancer in the infant.

behavioral disorders

Various neurological effects have been attributed to aspartame exposure, some of which include neurological and behavioral disorders, as well as some neuropsychiatric reactions including headache, convulsions, and depression. These effects are largely attributed to the metabolism of aspartame, producing phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol, all of which can cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) ​​and interact directly with neurotransmitters. .

In addition to the direct effects of aspartame on the central nervous system (CNS), its interactions with the gut microbiota may also contribute to long-term behavioral changes. These microbiome changes also increase the release of corticosterone and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

Journal Reference:

  • Zarnecka, K., Pilarz, A., Rogut, A., and others. (2021). Aspartame – True or False? Descriptive review of safety analysis of common uses in products. nutrients 13(6). doi: 10.3390/nu13061957.
  • Debras, C., Chazelas, E., Saroor, B., and others. (2022). Artificial sweeteners and cancer risk: results from the NutriNet-Santé population-based cohort study. PLOS Medicine. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003950.
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