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An artificial sweetener common in diet sodas may be associated with anxiety

2023.04.04 22:19:03 Katie Lee

[Soda cans. Photo Credit to Unsplash]

A study conducted by Florida State University this past December sheds light on the potential link between aspartame, a widely used artificial sweetener, and anxiety in humans.

Aspartame is a common low-calorie additive that substitutes sucrose (sugar) in over 5,000 diet foods and drinks–such as Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi, and other items labeled as “sugar-free.”

This study was structured around tests conducted on mice, focusing on the possible effects on the subjects’ subsequent generations.

Groups of mice were fed with aspartame-laced water solutions concentrated with 0.015% to 0.03% aspartame, equivalent to just 15% of the FDA’s recommended maximum daily human intake.

Observations revealed that the male mice fed with aspartame and their two successive generations demonstrated unexpected behavior suggestive of anxiety.

Sara Jones, the lead author of the study, notes, “It was such a robust anxiety-like trait that I don’t think any of us were anticipating we would see. It was completely unexpected. Usually, you see subtle changes.”

The researchers traced these behavioral anomalies to changes in gene activity in the amygdala, a notable brain region that regulates anxiety and fear.

A significant finding was that when the mice were given diazepam–also known as Valium, a drug commonly used by humans to treat anxiety–the observed behavioral changes diminished altogether in all generations.

A vital yet alarming finding was that the original test group’s responses to aspartame could be carried on further within additional generations.

Additionally, it is particularly notable that the mice consumed aspartame at a concentration (15%) much lower than the FDA’s recommended guideline.

This discovery may suggest the potential neurological effects of aspartame on humans–a topic that has not yielded conclusive nor assented results within the scientific community.

After consumption, aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol, often cautioned to cause implications within the central nervous system.

Future research based on the study may explain what happens physiologically as aspartame breaks down within the body.

The constant output of new findings associated with aspartame’s safety will help to consolidate these unanswered questions regarding its use.

The results of this study may not only yield further studies regarding aspartame’s impacts but could be a beacon of caution for those regularly consuming aspartame.

The co-author of the study, Dr. Pradeep G. Bhide, warned that “our data from mice suggest that similar outcomes may obtain in humans. Studies in human subjects would be needed to verify this suggestion.”

With the rising popularity of both aspartame use and production, it will be vital to be mindful when consuming products containing the substance.

As of 2017, 25.1% of children and 41.4% of adults in the United States were recorded to use artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and current trends indicate these numbers have risen over the course of several years.

As today’s generation continues its growing rave around zero-sugar, “diet-friendly” foods and drinks, it may be best to take precautionary measures on the amount of consumption and the ingredients that make these foods marketable.

Katie Lee / Grade 11 Session 1
Episcopal Academy