World Health Organization to Classify Aspartame as Possible Carcinogen

In this video, the speaker discusses the recent statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) classifying aspartame as a possible carcinogen. The WHO categorizes different compounds into three groups, with aspartame falling under Group 2B, which includes substances that are possibly carcinogenic. However, the speaker points out that there are many other everyday items in the same group as aspartame, such as gasoline engine exhaust, dry cleaning, and baby powder, which are not causing similar concern. Additionally, the speaker highlights that there is no consistent effect in the literature regarding the link between aspartame and cancer. They argue that confounding variables and the association of aspartame with weight loss make it difficult to determine a direct causal relationship. Despite this, the speaker emphasizes that while aspartame may not be entirely healthy, the data do not suggest that it is carcinogenic.

Author Icon

Our Summaries are written by our own AI Infrastructure, to save you time on your Health Journey!

How does this happen?

Key Insights:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) will classify aspartame as a possibly carcinogenic substance.
  • WHO’s classification system categorizes compounds into three groups: Group 3 (not carcinogenic), Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic), and Group 2A (probably carcinogenic).
  • Aspartame falls into Group 2B, along with substances like gasoline engine exhaust and Goldenseal root powder.
  • Other substances in Group 2A, considered probably carcinogenic, include red meat and drinking hot beverages above 65 degrees Celsius.
  • Research on the link between aspartame and cancer is inconclusive, with some studies showing no link.
  • Studies that suggest a possible link report a relative increase in cancer risk of 15%, but this is a small effect in the context of absolute risk.
  • Dose may be important for carcinogens, but aspartame shows no dose-response relationship.
  • Confounding variables, such as being overweight or obese, may play a role in the correlation between aspartame consumption and cancer risk.
  • A higher risk of cancer is associated with obesity, which is more prevalent among consumers of artificial sweeteners.
  • Aspartame can be a useful tool for weight loss, and many individuals have successfully lost significant amounts of weight by switching from regular soda to diet soda.
  • While aspartame may not be considered healthy, the overall data do not suggest that it is carcinogenic.


What’s up guys, we’re back with another educational video and this week we’re talking about the recent statement from the World Health Organization that they’re going to be classifying aspartame as possibly carcinogenic. But first, like the video, subscribe to the channel, and leave a comment – follow the algorithm.

So, I started getting a lot of messages from people freaking out over the announcement that the WHO will be listing aspartame as a possible carcinogen, with the official announcement coming up on July 14th. And obviously, this was picked up by a lot of news organizations, and many social media influencers used this opportunity to say, „See, aspartame is carcinogenic.“

I did what I always do – I read the statement, I looked up the classification system from The WHO, and I looked at the actual research. So, the first thing to point out is that the WHO’s classification system is into tiers. The World Health Organization classifies different compounds into three groups of carcinogenic. Group 3 are compounds that are basically thought to not be carcinogenic, and then you get into Group 2.

Now, Group 2 is split into two different sections – you have Group 2B, which are possibly carcinogenic – which is where the WHO is putting aspartame. You have Group 2A, which are probably carcinogenic. Then you have Group 1, which are compounds that are basically known to be carcinogenic. This sounds very, very scary. However, let me just point out a few things that are in the same group as aspartame: gasoline engine exhaust, dry cleaning, smartphones, goldenseal root powder (which is sold as a supplement and promoted as a treatment for respiratory illnesses and GI disorders), pickled vegetables, baby powder, cafeic acid (which is found in coffee, wine, and tea), acetaldehyde (which is what alcohol is converted to in the body), kava extract, and ginkgo biloba extract. I know many of you consume or are exposed to those substances, and you’re not freaking out over those. So, I don’t know why you’re freaking out over aspartame.

Then, if we look at Group 2A, some of the things in there which are thought to be probably carcinogenic, we see red meat and drinking very hot beverages like above 65 degrees Celsius. So, many of these fitness influencers are hypocrites because many of them fall in the low-carb category, where they say the idea that red meat is carcinogenic is complete BS, it’s all nonsense, it’s all trash epidemiology. But then, when this comes out that aspartame is getting categorized in a category below red meat, they’re like, „Ah, see, aspartame is carcinogenic.“ So, where was your outrage over red meat? It’s a textbook example of only focusing on the narrative that they want, cherry-picking for that, while completely ignoring other data.

Now, do I think red meat is carcinogenic? No, I do not, as long as you’re not overcooking it and as long as you’re not consuming high amounts of processed meat. The association between unprocessed red meat and cancer is very tenuous at best, and I’m not convinced at all that it’s a causative effect. But that’s neither here nor there. I just love how many of these same fitness influencers who are jumping all over this about aspartame also were denouncing the World Health Organization’s stance on the pandemic and vaccines. So, you say that the World Health Organization is not credible because of their stance on vaccines and the pandemic, but as soon as they list aspartame as a possible carcinogen, now apparently they become credible once again. It’s a textbook example of hypocrisy from fitness influencers.

Let’s talk about what the data actually says. Are there human studies showing possible links between aspartame and cancer? Yes, you can find studies that show a link between aspartame and cancer. However, it is not a consistent effect in the literature. In fact, there were two recent studies that just came out showing no link between aspartame and cancer. And furthermore, the studies that do show a link between aspartame and cancer, such as the Nutrasanté cohort, show a very small effect in terms of relative effects. So, for example, it’s like an odds ratio of 1.15, meaning that there is a relative increase in the odds of getting cancer by 15%. Now, that sounds scary. But when you consider it’s relative, so if your absolute risk of getting cancer is 5%, and you have a 15% increase in risk, it doesn’t mean it goes from 5% to 20%. It means it goes from 5% to 5.75%. It’s an absolute increase of 0.75%. And even that is really not backed up by the literature because one thing we know about carcinogens is dose tends to be important. So, what you tend to see with things that are carcinogenic, like smoking, is the greater the dose, the greater the risk of developing cancer. What you see with aspartame is you don’t get a dose-response. In fact, when they compared in a recent study moderate consumption of aspartame and high consumption of aspartame, they actually saw the risk slightly decrease when they went to the high consumers. How does that actually make any sense if this is a truly carcinogenic compound? And the answer is, it doesn’t. And it’s probably because aspartame is not really a carcinogen.

When you’re looking at epidemiology, what you’re seeing is confounding variables coming together. When you have epidemiology, people who do one thing don’t just do that one thing. They’re also more likely to do other things. In fact, we know for sure that people who intake more aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are more likely to be overweight or obese. Not because aspartame causes that, because as we know in randomized control trials, when people drink artificially sweetened beverages compared to regularly sweetened beverages, we see significant weight loss. It’s one of the best weight loss tools we have. But because people who are overweight or obese are more likely to attempt weight loss and thus more likely to use some of these diet beverages. So, if people who consume more artificial sweeteners are more likely to be overweight or obese, what you’re probably seeing is people have a higher risk of cancer due to that rather than the actual artificial sweeteners they’re consuming. And if we look at the relative odds ratios, the risk of being obese increases your risk of cancer several-fold, like a two to three-fold increase in risk. Okay, so you go from, like, 5% to, like, 10% or 15%. Okay, that is a huge magnitude of difference. So, let’s say even if aspartame was carcinogenic, and the data suggests it’s probably not, even if it was, if consuming aspartame allows you to get off regular soda and lose significant amounts of body weight and body fat, it’s still better than being obese.

So, many people will say, „Oh, these diet sodas are actually worse for you than regular soda.“ No, they’re not, not by a long shot. I know people will misinterpret what I’m saying. I am not saying you should consume aspartame. I’m not saying that aspartame is necessarily healthy for you. What I’m saying is, on balance, the data do not suggest that aspartame is carcinogenic, and the list that it’s on is basically filled with things that are probably not carcinogenic. But if they have any kind of link at all to cancer, they just throw them on the list. This is more out of an abundance of caution, which again, if you don’t want to consume aspartame, you don’t have to. But it is a useful tool for weight loss, and every time I do a video like this, people comment and say, „All I did was switch from regular soda to diet soda, and I lost 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 pounds.“ I see them all the time. Can you really tell me that those people are worse off now health-wise than they were before?

Alright, guys, that’s it for this week. If you guys like the way I break down research and data, make sure you check out my research review reps every month. We review five studies that are popular in fitness and nutrition. We break them down in a way that is palatable and easy to understand for anyone, even if you don’t have a science background. We tell you what the researchers tested, how they tested it, what they found, and what we think of the study and how it applies to you. So, if you’re interested in that, click the link in the description. And I’ll catch you next week.