Aspartame: The artificial sweetener linked to anxiety

In 1981, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the artificial sweetener aspartame.

The American Diabetes Association supports it as an acceptable sugar replacement, even though it has generated 75 percent of consumer reports on adverse reactions to artificial sweeteners.

If you use the artificial sweeteners Nutra Sweet or Equal, you’re eating aspartame.

And if you drink diet soda or chew gum, you’re getting a good dose of aspartame. It’s also found in cereals, yogurt, synthetic vitamins and even some pharmaceutical drugs… and that’s just the shortlist!

We’re already aware of the health risks associated with aspartame.

But that list keeps growing…

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Multi-generational anxiety: not so sweet

Researchers at Florida State University worked with mice to explore the possible trans-generational effects of aspartame consumption.

That is, if you consume artificial sweetener, how does it affect your children? Your grandchildren?

This research was a follow-up to a previous study where nicotine was examined similarly.

“We were working on the effects of nicotine on the same type of model,” says co-author Dr. Pradeep Bhide. “The father smokes. What happened to the children?”

For twelve weeks, mice were given water that contained aspartame at about 15 percent of the FDA-approved maximum human daily intake, the equivalent of six to eight cans of diet soda.

The study tracked these exposed mice and those bred from them over a four-year period.

What the researchers saw astounded them.

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

Through a variety of maze tests, the mice exhibited pronounced anxiety-like behavior across multiple generations.

Moreover, when they were given diazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety disorder in humans, the anxiety-like behavior ceased, across the board.

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Where aspartame hides

“Extrapolation of the findings to humans suggests that aspartame consumption at doses below the FDA recommended maximum daily intake may produce neurobehavioral changes in aspartame-consuming individuals — and their descendants,” the researchers say.

“Thus, the human population at risk of aspartame’s potential mental health effects may be larger than current expectations, which only include aspartame-consuming individuals.”

In plain language, there are probably a lot more of us than we thought walking around out there living with aspartame-induced anxiety. And aspartame is already known to cause a range of symptoms from headaches and nausea to memory loss, slurred speech and gastrointestinal disorders.

If you do decide to avoid aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, you’ll need to read labels religiously, especially if you shop at big-box or conventional grocery stores. The number of products filled with aspartame, sucralose, erythritol and other artificial sweeteners in these stores is astounding. Here are some of the most common culprits:

  • Zero-sugar or diet sodas.
  • Sugar-free gums.
  • Diet drink mixes.
  • Reduced-sugar condiments, including pancake syrups and ketchup.
  • Sugar-free gelatin and yogurt.
  • Some gummy or chewable vitamins, cough syrups, cough drops and cold/flu relief over-the-counter medications.
  • Some toothpaste and mouthwash products.

Basically, if you avoid anything labeled “diet,” “reduced calorie,” “light” or “sugar-free,” you’ll be well on your way to an aspartame-free life.

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FSU research links common sweetener with anxiety — Florida State University

A Popular Sweetener Had A Worrying Impact on Generations Of Mice — Science Alert

Transgenerational transmission of aspartame-induced anxiety and changes in glutamate-GABA signaling and gene expression in the amygdala — PNAS

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.