A new scientific study finds that the artificial sweetener aspartame can cause people to suffer from anxiety.
The study was conducted on mice, but the scientists believe that the findings are relevant to people as well.Read More »
The study found, too, that it is possible that the anxiety-producing effects of the sweetener can be transmitted for as many as two generations by men who have consumed it.
The study was conducted by scientists at the Florida State University College of Medicine.
Five thousand metric tons produced
Aspartame was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a sweetener in 1981. Today almost 5,000 metric tons of the artificial sweetener are manufactured each year.
When aspartame is consumed it turns into phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and menthol. All of these chemicals can possibly have an impact on the body’s central nervous system.
The research team did not expect to find such strong traits toward anxiety behavior, says Sara Jones, lead author of the research. Usually subtle changes are seen; these were more robust.
Over two generations or more
The study shows that we need to take environmental factors into account, says Pradeep Bhide, co-author. He is the Jim and Betty Ann Rodgers Eminent Scholar Chair of Developmental Neuroscience in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the university. The reason is that what we are seeing today is not only happening now, but also reflects what happened two generations ago and even longer, he adds.
The current study built on previous research by the Bhide laboratory on the effects of nicotine on mice over several generations.
The studies looked at the impact of smoking by a father on the children, Bhide explains.
The research indicated temporary changes in the sperm cells of the mice as a result of smoking. They were passed on to the next generation, the study found.
These changes can be reversed and do not change the DNA, but they can change how the body reacts to a DNA sequence.
Water with aspartame
The present study followed a similar pattern to that on smoking. It began by giving mice drinking water that contained levels of aspartame that came to about 15%, which is the maximum daily intake of the sweetener that is approved by the FDA.
The amount fed the mice is equivalent to a daily intake of six to eight 8-ounce cans of diet soda for people. The study continued for 12 weeks, but the overall research spanned a period of four years.
The result was that the mice who were fed the aspartame developed significant anxiety-like activity. The scientists then followed the mice over several generations. They found that the anxiety behavior existed in those mice that were descended from males that had been fed the aspartame.
The mice were tested using various maze tests.
Drug stopped anxiety-like behavior
When the mice were administered with diazepam—a drug sold under the trade name valium—that is used for anxiety disorders in humans, all generations stopped showing the behavior that is typical of anxiety.
The researchers say that they are planning to publish an additional paper from this study that will focus on how aspartame affects memory.
Research conducted in the future will identify the mechanisms that affect the transmission of the effect of aspartame across generations.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.