There has been new evidence linking the popular artificial sweetener aspartame to anxiety.
Over the years, there have been many disturbing reports about the potential health hazards of aspartame – the most common artificial sweetener in “sugar-free” products like diet soda. Now a new study has just been released that links the chemical to increased anxiety in mice.
In this study, mice were given free access to water dosed with aspartame equivalent to 15 percent of the FDA’s recommended maximum daily amount for humans. The researchers report that the mice “generally displayed more anxious behavior in specially designed mood tests.”
What’s truly surprising and somewhat disconcerting is that the effects could be seen in the animals’ offspring, for up to two generations! Which implies that aspartame can cause genetic mutations.
“What this study is showing is we need to look back at the environmental factors, because what we see today is not only what’s happening today, but what happened two generations ago and maybe even longer,” says neuroscientist Pradeep Bhide, from Florida State University in the US.
Anxiety was measured through a variety of maze tests on several generations of mice. The researchers also carried out RNA sequencing on key parts of their nervous systems to determine how the tissue’s genes were being expressed. The researchers found significant changes in the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with the regulation of anxiety.
We know that when it’s consumed, aspartame splits into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol, which can all affect the central nervous system. There have already been question marks over potentially adverse reactions to the sweetener in some people, including an increased risk of emotional disorders and cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
This anxiety research seems to back up previous claims of aspartame’s negative impact on the nervous system and brain function. While the researchers admit that monitoring for emotional behaviors in mice is, at best, an approximation of similar moods in humans, their experiments showed clear changes in animal behavior, which they linked to changes in gene activity.
“It was such a robust anxiety-like trait that I don’t think any of us were anticipating we would see,” says Sara Jones, a graduate research assistant at Florida State University. “It was completely unexpected. Usually, you see subtle changes.”
One of the key and quite scary takeaways from the research is that their evidence suggests that, like tobacco users, it’s not just those who consume the artificial sweetener who might be at risk, but also their children and their children’s children. How that might happen is not yet fully understood but fits with emerging evidence that suggests epigenetic markings can indeed remain intact across numerous generations.
Based on their results, Jones and her fellow researchers are urging caution. Past research has linked aspartame to cancer and changes in the gut bacteria leading to glucose intolerance; increased anxiety is now another reason to avoid diet sodas and other products with this apparently toxic chemical.