On Thursday, July 13, 2023, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, deemed aspartame, the world’s most widely used artificial sweetener, to be “possibly carcinogenic” to humans. Separately, a U.N. expert group assessing the same evidence said their guidance regarding safe consumption of the sweetener remained unchanged.  (AP)


Aspartame, the recently identified probable carcinogen, is commonly used in diet drinks, ice creams, chewing gums since 1980s. The artificial sweetener has ben declared carcinogenic by World Health Organisation (WHO). 

However, WHO has also noted that there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. Aspartame, used in Coca Diet Soda among other beverages, remains safe to be consumed in agreed quantities, two groups linked to the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on Friday.

The research flagging the probable carcinogenic property of Aspartame was released by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

Any negative consumer reaction to the latest designation on aspartame would impact nearly all of the world’s major consumer-product companies. Throughout the carbonated-beverage business, from Diet Coke and Coke Zero Sugar, to Diet Pepsi, aspartame is used to provide calorie-free sweetness.

The classification system of the WHO’s IARC body consists of four levels: carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic and no classification.

What is Aspartame?

A chemical-based sweetener that is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, aspartame is packaged and sold under names such as Equal, says Bloomberg

The US Food and Drug Administration approved aspartame in certain products in 1974, issuing a safety finding in 1981 and approving it as a general-purpose sweetener in 1996.

Health risks from Aspartame

According to a report published by Hindustan Times, Aspartame poses not just carcinogenic risks, it could also cause other health troubles, such as headaches, digestive disorders, allergic reactions to cardiovascular issues.

The report chalks out eight risks from Aspartame beyond cancer as pointed out by health expert Dr Amita Bhargava

-Headaches and Migraines

Some individuals may be sensitive to aspartame and experience headaches or migraines after consuming products containing it. However, scientific evidence linking aspartame to headaches is limited and inconclusive, and many people can safely consume Aspartame without experiencing these symptoms.

-Allergic Reactions

Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to aspartame. Symptoms can include hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, or other allergic reactions. If you suspect an allergic reaction to aspartame, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly.

-Increased risk of depression

Some studies have shown a correlation between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of depression, which is thought to be due to the damaging effects on serotonin levels.

-Weight Gain

Contrary to popular belief, opting for a can of diet soda does not necessarily contribute to weight loss. The diet soda contains aspartame, which when digested produces a compound called phenylalanine which has been shown to interfere with an enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphate (IAP).

This enzyme when functioning properly, helps to prevent obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. However, because Aspartame breakdown produces phenylalanine, it in turn contributes to weight gain when consumed frequently.

-Phenylketonuria (PKU)

Phenylketonuria is a rare genetic disorder. People affected with this lack the enzyme necessary to metabolize phenylalanine, an amino acid found in aspartame. Therefore consuming the artificial sweetener becomes harmful for them

-Gastrointestinal issues

Some cases have shown that excessive consumption of aspartame may lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea, or abdominal pain.

-Risk of cardiovascular disease

Some studies have suggested that the consumption of artificial sweeteners may be linked to an increased risk of certain cardiovascular issues, such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

-Metabolic effects

Studies have show a link between excessive consumption of aspartame and reduced insulin response or glucose metabolism. 


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Updated: 14 Jul 2023, 05:41 PM IST


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