Researchers from the Florida State University College of Medicine have discovered a link between the artificial sweetener aspartame and anxiety-like behavior in rats. Aspartame may be present in almost 5,000 diet goods and drinks. In addition to causing anxiety in mice who fed aspartame, the effects of the sweetener were seen in the offspring of male mice that had been exposed to it for up to two generations.
Previous research conducted in the Bhide Lab on the impact that nicotine has had on mice across generations provided some of the inspiration for this study. The study discovered epigenetic modifications, also known as transient alterations, in the sperm cells of mice. Epigenetic alterations, in contrast to genetic changes (mutations), are reversible and do not alter the DNA sequence. However, epigenetic modifications might modify the way a DNA sequence is interpreted by the body.
In 1981, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States gave its blessing for the use of aspartame as a sweetener. At the moment, the annual production comes in at over 5,000 metric tons. Aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol when it is ingested. Each of these byproducts has the potential to exert powerful effects on the central nervous system.
In the study, which was led by doctorate candidate Sara Jones, mice were given drinking water with aspartame at a concentration that was roughly 15% of the daily maximum human dosage that had been permitted by the FDA. In a research that lasted for four years, participants were given a dosage that was comparable to drinking six to eight cans of diet Coke that were 8 ounces each every day. This regimen was maintained for a period of 12 weeks.
Several different maze tests conducted on mice descending from aspartame-exposed males revealed that the mice exhibited anxiety-like behavior to a significant degree over the course of multiple generations.
Mice of all generations stopped exhibiting anxious behaviors after they were given the drug diazepam, which is prescribed to patients suffering from anxiety disorders.
The effects of aspartame on memory are going to be the subject of an extra article that the researchers intend to write up based on this investigation. In the future, studies will determine the molecular pathways that are responsible for the transmission of the effect of aspartame from one generation to the next.
The research was written up and presented in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.