FSA study confirms aspartame ‘safe for human consumption’
People who self-identified as ‘sensitive to aspartame’ showed no symptoms after consuming food containing the artificial sweetener as part of a study conducted by Hull York Medical School.
The study, published recently by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), set out to determine reactions to aspartame in people who had reported symptoms in the past compared to people with no reported symptoms. The study was also published in the peer reviewed, open access journal, PLOS ONE.
The study concluded that the participants who were self-diagnosed as sensitive to aspartame showed no difference in their response after consuming a cereal bar, whether it contained aspartame or not. The study looked at various factors including psychological testing, clinical observations, clinical biochemistry and also metabolomics (which is the scientific study of small molecules generated by the process of metabolism).
“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 Guy Poppy, FSA Chief Scientific Advisor. “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,” he said.
The study recruited individuals who reported reactions after consuming aspartame, alongside a matched control group of individuals who normally consume foods containing aspartame without problems. The aspartame was given in a cereal bar so that individuals could not distinguish between bars containing aspartame and the control bars.
The work took the form of a double blind randomised crossover study. This type of study is designed to test the effect of a substance in such a way that neither the research team nor the participants know whether the bar consumed contains the test substance or not. Double blind studies are designed to eliminate the risk of prejudgment by participants or researchers which could distort the results.
Study to be shared with EFSA
In December 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an opinion on aspartame following a full risk assessment after undertaking a rigorous review of all available scientific research on aspartame and its breakdown products, including both animal and human studies. The EFSA opinion concluded that ‘aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure’.
The FSA said it would share the results of this study with EFSA.
The Hull/York paper was peer reviewed by the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) in December 2013. COT concluded that ‘the results presented did not indicate any need for action to protect the health of the public’.