People who self-diagnose as sensitive to aspartame do not actually react to the additive, a study has found.
The research by Hull York Medical School examined the response of 48 individuals with self-reported aspartame sensitivity (SRAS) to two different cereal bars: one containing the sweetener, and one not. It also looked at a control group of 48 people who did not report sensitivity, matched to the first group by age and gender. The study was double-blind, meaning neither the researchers nor participants knew which order the bars were being given in.
To examine the effects of the two cereal bars, a range of biological and psychological measures were taken from the participants, and their responses to the substance were assessed with tests on blood and urine samples. Participants also rated a range of 14 symptoms over four hours after eating the bars.
Although participants reported varying symptoms, the study found no difference between the two bars in either group – although the SRAS group tended to rate more symptoms for both bars than the control group. The SRAS participants also generally reported more symptoms during the first session, whichever bar they had received. This applied to headache, nausea, dizziness, nasal congestion, tingling, thirst, and bloating.
The researchers said the findings suggested that as a single dose, aspartame has no effect that can either be measured or is reported by those consuming it, and that this applied equally to people with and without SRAS.
“While the best available evidence shows that aspartame can be consumed safely, a number of individuals have reported adverse reactions after consuming food and drink containing aspartame,” said Food Standards Agency chief scientific advisor Guy Poppy. “Given this anecdotal evidence it was appropriate to see if more could be found out about these reported effects. The Hull/York study was not designed to evaluate the overall safety of aspartame as it is already an approved additive.”
The European Food Safety Authority published an opinion on aspartame in December 2013, concluding that “aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure”.