My two years of hell on low calorie drinks

16 January, 2000

by Lucy Johnson

Sunday Express

IN AGONY: Lyn Hunter's pain was so bad it nearly drove her to suicide. She cut out aspartame and it disappeared.

DOZENS of people have contacted the Sunday Express claiming they have suffered adverse reactions from Britain's best-selling low calorie sweetener aspartame.

This follows our revelations last week that a growing number of scientists, consumer groups and MPs are questioning its safety.

One reader, Lyn Hunter, says she regularly drank aspartame-flavoured soft drinks and chewed aspartame-sweetened gum. Two years ago she began to suffer pain in her feet. The pain spread to her hands, wrists, elbows, neck and shoulders.

Her doctor carried out blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis. Although the tests were negative, he treated her for the condition anyway. But the pain grew worse. Lyn, 49, of Liverpool, said: "It got to the stage where I was ready to commit suicide. Nothing could combat the ache. I couldn't sleep, dress or wash myself. My body was just screaming in agony."

She also suffered headaches, lack of concentration, confusion, excessive tiredness and insomnia. She saw various doctors, including a hypnotherapist and rheumatologist, but it seemed nothing could help. "I was taking maximum strength, maximum dose painkillers daily along with my medication but it had no effect," she said. Last September a work colleague suggested Lyn may have an allergy.

Her own research led to the discovery that joint pain had been reported as a side-effect of aspartame. So she removed it from her diet.

"I noticed a difference within days and after a week most of my symptoms had almost disappeared," she said. Lyn is just one of a number of people who have complained of a series of debilitating symptoms such as headaches, joint pains, depression and poor vision which they believe could be linked to aspartame. Two of the alleged victims have engaged lawyers to investigate whether they may be able to sue the manufacturers.

Aspartame is produced by a number of firms, including the US multi-national Monsanto. Sold under the brand names NutraSweet or Canderel, it is widely used in products such as diet drinks and yoghurts. It has been linked with more than 90 adverse reactions, including brain tumours and blindness.

Monsanto is confident that existing research has proved its safety. It says: "This product has been approved by health and regulatory authorities across the world. No credible, well-controlled independent research shows any link between health risks and aspartame." But last week the Sunday Express demanded that the Government fund fresh research into the effects of long-term exposure. Since then we have been inundated with phone calls and letters.

Barbara Simmons, 66, drank diet drinks for years in an effort to control her weight. She began to suffer from very bad headaches.

"The pain used to come during the night from the back of the head to the front. It would cause my eye to drop on the left hand side and my left eye would narrow to a slit. It got so bad no painkillers could help."

About three years ago a friend told her that she believed her daughter's headaches were caused by aspartame and that she should remove it from her diet. "It took me a while to remove it completely-- I didn't realise it was in so many products. I was taking it in jellies, blancmanges, orange drinks and fizzy drinks."

Within weeks of eliminating aspartame from her diet, Barbara's headaches stopped. That was three years ago and she has not had another headache since.

Liberal Democrat consumer affairs spokesman Norman Baker said last night that he would be seeking a meeting with health ministers to discuss concerns raised by Sunday Express readers.

"It is clear that aspartame requires a further and more detailed investigation to establish whether it should be taken off the market," he said.

A spokesman for NutraSweet said: "Ever since NutraSweet has been on the market, it has provided an inquiry line and when every one of these allegations is investigated by researchers it has not been possible to connect it with aspartame."

Aspartame has been used for 18 years but no study has properly analysed the effects of long-term exposure. An analysis of studies in America until 1996 found that 92 per cent of independent research papers expressed concern that aspartame may be linked to illnesses such as brain tumours, blindness and seizures. As well as fizzy drinks and chewing gum, it is found in sweets, beer, spring water and vitamins. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar but contains virtually no calories. Sales are worth more than 625million a year.

(c) Express Newspapers, 2000

Sunday Express: Johnson: Hunter aspartame case Jan 16 2000


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