19 March 2015

Sensitivity to sweeteners; a modern myth?

Since the artificial sweetener ‘aspartame’ became commonly used by the food and drink industry in the 1980s, it has been the subject of considerable scrutiny. Despite purported symptoms associated with the sweetener and the popular belief that it may be dangerous to consume, a recent test of 96 people by Hull York Medical School Researcher, Dr Thozhukat Sathyapalan, has presented contrary results.

Aspartame was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is considered an intense artificial sweetener, as only very small quantities are required to sweeten foods. Aspartame has been reviewed on a number of subsequent occasions, most recently a full reevaluation by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) in 2013. It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose and approximately 2000 tonnes are consumed annually in Europe alone. Vast quantities of literature has been produced by individuals and websites detailing customer concerns that include cancer, multiple sclerosis, blindness, seizures, memory loss, depression, anxiety, obesity, birth defects and death; however, this is not supported by scientific findings.

Dr Sathyapalan conducted a controlled trial, funded by the Food standards Agency (FSA), of cereal bars with and without aspartame, and providing it under blind conditions where both participants and researchers could not identify the sweetener. The trial compared 48 people who self-reported as being sensitive to aspartame with 48 control participants with no such sensitivity. Using two specially prepared cereal bars, only one of which included aspartame, participants rated their symptoms over a four hour period after eating each of the bars and were measured for a range of biological and psychological responses. At the start of the trial, self-reported aspartame sensitive and control individuals differed slightly in their moods, with the former feeling under greater stress and struggling to express their feelings. Throughout the test, whilst sensitive participants rated more symptoms, these did not correlate whether they consumed aspartame bar or not. Various state of the art blood and urine biological tests were also done which didn’t show any changes after consuming aspartame bars in self-reported aspartame sensitive individual to controls. 

Results from the independent study demonstrated that there was no evidence of any adverse response to aspartame. Dr Thozhukat Sathyapalan said, "We used a variety of state of the art tests to monitor the response of our participants throughout the trial. With customer concern over the safety of this sweetener in food and drink products, the results of this trial should be reassuring to the public."

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For interviews or any other media enquiries contact:
Chloe Roach
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Hull York Medical School

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Elaine Boyes
Head of External Relations and Engagement
Hull York Medical School

Elaine.boyes@hyms.ac.uk
01904 321858