In a finding that came as a shock to many, the latest study conducted by the Florida State University College of Medicine (FSU) has raised concerns over aspartame, an ingredient commonly found in Diet Coke regarding its potential impacts on memory and learning abilities. Aspartame is a non-sugar, low-calorie sweetener generally found in sugar-free or “diet” foods and drinks and it has been widely used since the 1980s.
The latest findings have been published in the Journal Scientific Reports and the results were revealed post the study that was conducted on the effects of aspartame on male mice. In the 16-week-long study, the researchers had put three groups of mice under observation. The first group consumed four 8-oz. sodas per day, ie. 15% of the maximum aspartame intake recommended by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in a day. On the other hand, the second group’s intake was two 8-oz. sodas per day. ie. 7% of the recommended maximum intake. There was a third control group that consumed only water.
The study was conducted on mice in mazes at intervals of four weeks, eight weeks, and 12 weeks. In the end, the results showed that the mice that consumed only water could find the “safe” box to escape from the maze much faster in comparison to the ones that consumed aspartame. As per the researcher, It took much longer for the mice that consumed aspartame to complete the task and they also needed extra help at times.
Pradeep Bhide, co-author and the Jim and Betty Ann Rodgers eminent scholar chair of developmental neuroscience in the Department of Biomedical Sciences said in the press release that there is some overlap when it comes to learning, memory, and anxiety, and mentioned that often there is an emotional component to their learning. Pradeep went on to say that one remembers better when there is an emotional impact. However, it is a quite distinct function and brain network. While commenting on the results, Pradeep said that these changes were observed only in the children of male mice. And not in their grandchildren.
Last July, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization ( WHO) classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans. However, it was mentioned that there is limited evidence for cancer in humans, especially for hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.
Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology physician located in Washington, D.C. commented on the latest findings by FSU, though he was not part of the study. According to him, the results suggest that consuming aspartame, even in low levels may lead to memory and learning problems that may be hereditary across generations. He also added that the study reveals that aspartame may cause genetic changes in sperm that may affect future generations. However, Johnson-Arbor was quick to point out that studies in the past did not find a similar association between aspartame consumption, memory, and learning. Thus, she opined that more studies have to be conducted. To conclusively establish the connection between aspartame and damage to the brain.
A major drawback of the FSU’s research is that the study was conducted only on mice and it made Johnson-Arbor mention that the results may not be indicative of aspartame’s effects on the human brain. She also added that as more studies are underway regarding aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, concerned individuals may want to limit their daily consumption of artificial sweeteners until there is further clarification on the true human health risks of these compounds.
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