Q: My son is hyperactive and a friend suggested that this can be caused by an allergy to aspartame. We do let him drink a lot of diet soda so I wonder if he should be tested.
A: Many parents of hyperactive children (the term doctors now tend to use is attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity) wonder whether additives in food could be responsible for their children's condition. To date, however, scientists have not been able to establish any clear-cut relationship between these additives and the observed behavior.
A recent report in the journal Pediatrics casts further doubt on the association. Scientists at Yale University tested 15 children (11 boys and 4 girls -- hyperactivity is seen much more commonly in boys) for a sensitivity to aspartame. Each child received two weeks of aspartame and then two weeks of placebo (a pill made of inert materials) or two weeks of placebo and then two weeks of aspartame. Neither the children, the parents, nor the investigators knew which regimen the children were getting. The dose of aspartame chosen was 10 times what a child would usually consume. A variety of psychological and biochemical tests were performed throughout the study.
Their results failed to show any association between performance on any of the test measures and whether the child was taking aspartame or placebo.
While the work was supported by NutraSweet Co., we believe the results are valid and worthy of attention: it was carefully done.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.