Intended for healthcare professionals


Aspartame is “possibly carcinogenic” but current recommended intake is safe, experts rule

BMJ 2023; 382 doi: (Published 14 July 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;382:p1623
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. Kent

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that the artificial sweetener aspartame is “possibly carcinogenic to humans” but that the evidence for this is limited in humans, specifically regarding hepatocellular carcinoma.

However, experts have reassured the general public that it should not be worried about the IARC’s classification of aspartame as a group 2b substance. A long list of substances have been placed in this category, including aloe vera, diesel oil, and caffeic acid, which is found in tea and coffee.

A separate independent review by the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that there was no sufficient reason to change the previously established daily intake of aspartame of 0-40 mg/kg body weight.

A can of diet soft drink contains 200-300 mg of aspartame, so an adult weighing 70 kg would need to consume 9-14 cans a day to exceed the acceptable daily intake. This assumes no other intake from other food sources. Aspartame is also widely found in many products, including chewing gum, ice cream, yoghurt, and breakfast cereal.

The two expert bodies conducted independent but complementary reviews to assess the possible health risks associated with aspartame consumption. This is the first time the IARC has evaluated aspartame and the third time the JECFA has.

Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s department of nutrition and food safety, said, “The assessments of aspartame have indicated that, while …

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