Aspartame has been the focus of numerous studies as researchers need to know more about the safety and effects of this artificial sweetener. A Florida State University looked into the potential impact of aspartame on anxiety and found that mice that consumed aspartame exhibited anxiety-like behavior afterward and presented changes in the expression of genes in the amygdala. Diazepam is said to successfully reset the anxiety level in these lab specimens.
Aspartame has been used in sugary drinks and other sweet products since 1981. James M. Schlatter invented the compound in 1965, but it only made its way to commercial lines much later. Almost 25.1% of children and 41.4% of adults in the U.S. have reported using low-calorie sweeteners daily. Targeting both the diabetic and nondiabetic populations, aspartame is a sucrose substitute that many individuals have grown to love. The recommended daily take of this compound is no greater than 50 milligrams for each kilogram of body weight.
The researchers at Florida State University turned their attention to this artificial sweetener after determining the heritable behavioral effects that nicotine and saccharin have. Dr. Bhide, the study’s senior investigator, explained that the “lab is interested in examining how environmental exposures influence traits — behavioral, cellular, molecular, etc. — not only in the directly exposed individuals but also in their descendants.”
After administering only 15% of the FDA-approved amount, it was seen that anxiety-like behavioral symptoms had already started showing. Both male and female mice received the aspartame in drinking water. The study showed that the changes in the amygdala persisted for up to two subsequent generations through males, as did the effectiveness of diazepam in relieving anxiety. The anxiety levels that the mice experienced were measured using an open-field test. In this test, anxious mice tend to stay on the sidelines, where they may feel safer when allowed free access to an open field. The amount of time spent in the central area thus measures their anxiety level.
Discovering the anxiety-producing effect of aspartame seems to be an unexpected finding for the researchers. Dr.Bhide reports that the induced anxiety appears to be robust, and the evidence point to the fact that even smaller amounts of aspartame taken daily in small quantities over six to twelve weeks could produce the same results in men. This is a fair warning to think twice before choosing sugary diet drinks again.
The epigenetic changes of aspartame can be compared to the changes brought by cigarette smoking. “It would be interesting,” says the researcher, “to see if aspartame’s effects can be passed down to further generations beyond the grandchildren of the exposed individual. Additionally, it would be interesting to conduct studies on the sperm, to better understand the mechanism underlying the findings. However, the research team has yet to replicate the study on human beings and examine whether the epigenetic changes in the amygdala carry over to the coming generations.