Vitality

Short-Term Artificial Sweeteners Study Reveals No 'Aspartame Sensitivity'

Aspartame Safety Study
Researchers investigate the safety of artificial sweetener aspartame, also found in sugar-free gummy bears. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Rumors about the health dangers of the artificial sweetener aspartame have ranged from headaches to heart problems and cancer, many of which have been left uninvestigated until now. A collaborative effort by researchers from Imperial College London, University College Dublin, Weill Cornell Medical College, Hull York Medical School, and the Institute of Food Research studied half a group of study participants who consumed aspartame and another half a placebo to figure out if it was really as dangerous as some experts wondered. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, revealed no acute adverse health effects to aspartame.

Since its introduction in 1980, aspartame has become one of the most commonly consumed and controversial artificial sweeteners on the market. You’ve probably seen it in the little blue Equal and NutraSweet packets found in the sugar dish at a diner or coffee shop. The double-blind study found the sweetener (which is 200 times sweeter than regular cane sugar) wasn’t responsible for any of the common side effects reported in the past.  

The 48 participants involved in the study claimed they were aspartame-sensitive because of the symptoms they experienced after eating it. When researchers assigned them to eat aspartame-laden cereal bars, a total of 14 people complained about headaches, mood swings, visual problems, dizziness, mood swings, and more. However, the complainers were a mix of both aspartame and non-aspartame consumers. The researchers wrote, "none of the rated symptoms differed between aspartame and control bars, or between sensitive and control participants."

Researchers also took blood and urine samples from the participants for safe measure. The chemicals, methanol, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine are the three main breakdown of toxins anti-aspartame advocates warn consumers about. The sample analysis revealed the levels were low enough they could be considered harmless. But as the American Cancer Society pointed out, a 12-ounce can of Diet Coke contains 192 milligrams of aspartame and is the second most popular soda in America. High levels of consumption combined with a high frequency changes the level of chemical exposure, which was not represented in the small study population.

A long-term study needs to be done in order to better understand the possible health consequences of consuming aspartame. Cancerous tumors don’t just grow overnight. Researchers concluded, "This independent study gives reassurance to both regulatory bodies and the public that acute ingestion of aspartame does not have any detectable psychological or metabolic effects in humans."

Source: Courts F, Sathyapalan T, Thatcher NJ, Hammersley R, Rigby AS, and Pechlivanis A, et al. Aspartame Sensitivity? A Double Blind Randomised Crossover Study. PLOS ONE. 2015. 

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