The safety of aspartame, a commonly used artificial sweetener, has been questioned for a number of years. Now, there are questions about whether aspartame is linked to fibromyalgia. In a study published in the Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology, researchers described patients who found relief from fibromyalgia symptoms after removing aspartame from their diets.
According to Mayo Clinic, fibromyalgia causes musculoskeletal pain throughout the body as well as problems with sleep, memory and mood. The cause of fibromyalgia is currently unknown, but factors that contribute may include heredity, infections and physical or emotional trauma. In some individuals with fibromyalgia, symptoms slowly appear over time. The disorder is more likely to occur in women than in men.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Department of Rheumatology at Dijon University Hospital and Faculty of Medicine at Burgundy University in France, reported on two patients with symptoms of fibromyalgia. One patient was a 50-year old woman who suffered from widespread pain and fatigue for over a decade, resulting in a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. When she went on vacation to a foreign country, she did not consume aspartame as she usually did. During this time, her symptoms were not present. When she returned from vacation and reintroduced aspartame into her diet, the symptoms returned. The other patient was a 43-year old man who suffered pain in his forearms, wrist, and hand for three years. He underwent various unsuccessful treatments. Through detailed questioning, it was learned that he had been consuming aspartame for three years. The artificial sweetener was removed from his diet, and his symptoms were regressed completely without returning, the authors said.
“We believe that these patients’ chronic pain was due to the ingestion of aspartame, a potent flavouring agent, widely used in food as a calorie-saver. The benefit/ risk ratio of considering the diagnosis of aspartame-induced chronic pain is obvious: the potential benefit is to cure a disabling chronic disease, to spare numerous laboratory and imaging investigations, and to avoid potentially harmful therapies; the potential risk is to temporarily change the patient’s diet. Thus, practitioners should ask patients suffering from fibromyalgia about their intake of aspartame. In some cases, this simple question might lead to the resolution of a disabling chronic disease.” the researchers wrote.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six artificial sweeteners; aspartame is sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal. According to the American Cancer Society, it is 200 sweeter than sugar is thus used as a low-calorie additive.