July 27, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Tom Gordon looks at recent research on people who have reported aspartame sensitivity

aspartame 5622924397_091f4b8d56_bA recent paper published in PLoS One has investigated the potential side-effects of aspartame to self-declared ‘aspartame sensitive’ individuals, those that ‘reported suffering one or more symptoms on multiple occasions and as a consequence were actively avoiding consumption of any aspartame in their diet’.

The study was conducted by an international team that included members from the University of Hull and Imperial College London. Even they struggled to find volunteers willing to ingest the sweetener, such is the fear it provokes. The researchers hid 100 mg of aspartame (equivalent to a can of Diet Coke) in some cereal bars and left others untouched. The participants wouldn’t know what they were eating. Various biological and psychological measures were recorded and compared to a control group.

The team found no differences in reported symptoms when comparing the aspartame bars to the controls. Whilst the study can only account for acute conditions rather than the chronic ones that are so often reported, it should offer some reassurance as to aspartame’s safety.

The debate has however become entrenched in the political: the antiaspartame ‘holistics’ see the sweetener as a product of dodgy corporate science that has been insidiously forced upon them. The fact that safety studies are often funded by ivory tower regulatory bodies is unlikely to sway support.

Tom Gordon is studying for a MSc in Science Communication

Image: Warning by Dayna (Flickr; Creative Commons)

Citation: Aspartame Sensitivity? A Double Blind Randomised Crossover Study
Sathyapalan , T. et al (2015) Aspartame Sensitivity? A Double Blind Randomised Crossover Study. PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116212