Did you know the zero-calorie sweetener you’ve been using might be causing you more harm than good? Here’s a surprising revelation: aspartame, a common artificial sweetener found in a vast array of diet foods and drinks, has been linked to anxiety-like behavior – at least in mice. But that’s not all. This effect, based on a study at Florida State University College of Medicine, was observed up to two generations from the males exposed to the sweetener. Now that’s food for thought!
Anxiety From Aspartame
How did we come to this startling conclusion? Well, it all began as a result of previous studies on the effects of nicotine on mice. Researchers noticed some temporary changes in mice sperm cells, which they termed as “epigenetic” changes. Now, these changes are different from genetic changes or mutations. While they don’t alter the DNA sequence, they can change how the body reads a DNA sequence – a bit like misreading a recipe and adding sugar instead of salt!
Applying this framework to aspartame, the researchers decided to investigate its potential effects across generations. They offered mice drinking water with aspartame at around 15% of the FDA-approved maximum daily human intake. In human terms, this is equivalent to consuming six to eight 8-ounce cans of diet soda daily – something quite feasible for a diet soda lover!
What was the outcome? Well, after 12 weeks, the mice began to show pronounced anxiety-like behavior. This effect was so robust that it surprised the researchers themselves, who expected only subtle changes, if any.
The Anxiety Effect: Across Generations
Here’s the twist. This anxiety-like behavior was not just confined to the mice that consumed aspartame; it was also observed in multiple generations descending from the aspartame-exposed males. In simpler terms, if your great-grandfather was exposed to aspartame, you might be more prone to anxiety-like behavior.
But, don’t hit the panic button just yet. When given diazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety disorder in humans, the anxiety-like behavior in the mice ceased across all generations.
What’s Next in Aspartame Research?
You’re probably wondering, “What does this all mean for us?” We’re still figuring that out. Researchers are looking to delve further into how aspartame affects memory, and future research will seek to uncover the molecular mechanisms that transmit aspartame’s effects across generations.
What we can take away from this, at least for now, is a need to re-evaluate environmental factors impacting our health. It’s not just about what’s happening today, but what happened to our ancestors as well.
A Word to the Wise
While it might be too early to call aspartame a villain, it’s definitely worth being cautious. Given that aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol upon consumption – all of which can significantly impact our central nervous system – perhaps it’s time to reconsider our choices.
Remember, it’s not just about the calories we’re trying to cut; it’s about the legacy we’re leaving behind for the generations to come. So, the next time you reach for that diet soda, maybe opt for a glass of water instead? Your future generations might thank you for it!
The implications of this study are enormous, opening a whole new frontier in our understanding of how dietary and environmental factors can affect not just our health, but the health of future generations. While much more research is needed to confirm and explore these findings, it’s a stark reminder of how interconnected we are – not just with the world around us, but with our past and our future as well. So, let’s take care of ourselves, not just for our own sake, but for the generations yet to come.
Sara K. Jones, Deirdre M. McCarthy, Cynthia Vied, Gregg D. Stanwood, Chris Schatschneider, Pradeep G. Bhide. Transgenerational transmission of aspartame-induced anxiety and changes in glutamate-GABA signaling and gene expression in the amygdala. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2022; 119 (49). Link