Transgenerational anxiety linked to artificial sweeteners, NEW study
(NaturalHealth365) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 66 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese – and at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. To manage their weight, many turn to artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which can be found in over 5,000 foods and drinks, including sodas, ice cream, and more.
A growing body of research highlights the potential adverse effects of artificial sweeteners, from disturbed gut microbiome to (ironically!) weight gain. Now, a recent study from Florida State University College of Medicine suggests that aspartame could cause anxiety and neurobehavioral changes. Even more alarmingly, the changes could be passed to subsequent generations. While the study was conducted on animals, it raises serious questions regarding implications for humans. So let’s get the “skinny” on this recent research – and its disturbing findings.
Aspartame study’s outcome startles researchers
In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers gave lab mice aspartame in drinking water for twelve weeks. The sweetener was administered in amounts that – in human consumption – would equal two to four small 8-ounce cans of diet soda daily. Using field tests and mazes to evaluate the animals, researchers observed “pronounced” anxious behavior, which began in the sixth week and persisted throughout the 12-week study period.
The anxious mice, the team observed, spent less time out in the open – meaning they spent less time engaging in normal exploratory behavior. The changes persisted across two generations of descendants, males and females alike, arising from aspartame-exposed males. (The maternal line – the offspring of aspartame-exposed females – was not included in the study). Scientists appeared to be taken aback by the severity of the animals’ anxiety, with the study leader noting that researchers had expected “much more subtle changes.”
Ominous findings: Aspartame exposure affected gene signaling in multiple generations
The team noted that aspartame affected gene signaling in the amygdala, a brain region regulating fear and anxiety. Specifically, it downregulated GABA – a calming brain chemical – while upregulating glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. Because a single dose of diazepam – a tranquilizer that affects GABA-receptor signaling – allayed the animals’ anxiety, the researchers felt confident that they had identified the underlying mechanism. “Aspartame consumption at doses below the maximum daily intake recommended by the FDA may produce neurobehavioral changes in aspartame-consuming individuals and their descendants,” the scientists concluded.
Future studies will evaluate aspartame’s effect on memory, with scientists also examining the questions of why and how the effects continue in subsequent generations.
Additional studies cast doubts on the value and safety of artificial sweeteners
As it turns out, artificial sweeteners does not work particularly well to control weight.
In a bombshell 2017 review of studies published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the authors concluded that sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose had no effect on weight management. In fact, some of the randomized, controlled trials showed that aspartame was actually associated with modest gains in weight and waist circumference! Scientists point out that the sweet taste of aspartame signals to the body that food is entering the digestive tract, but the anticipated “pay-off” – a substantial input of calories – never arrives.
If this occurs regularly, the body breaks the association between sweet taste and calories, resulting in high-calorie foods failing to satisfy. But that’s not all. The researchers cited studies suggesting that aspartame has adverse effects on blood sugar and gut health – and could increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke. Finally, phenylalanine – an amino acid in aspartame – is believed to increase appetite and disrupt the all-important bacterial balance of the gut microbiome, which is vital to maintaining a healthy weight.
A recent report issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services stated that while some research has shown no harm, other studies have suggested that aspartame can worsen migraines and increase the risk of urinary tract tumors.
What does the FDA have to say about aspartame?
The Food and Drug Administration continues to insist that aspartame is “safe” and says it poses minimal health risks for healthy individuals without phenylketonuria (a condition in which the body can’t break down phenylalanine). The agency has set an acceptable daily aspartame limit of 50 mg/kg in humans, noting that the average person would need to drink close to 20 cans of diet soda a day to top this.
While some people may think that more research is needed, the questions raised by the FSU study are disturbing. It’s one thing to find that consumption of a substance can affect behavior and mood in “real-time.” But the possibility that the substance could affect future generations is shocking.
As the FSU researchers concluded, “Aspartame deserves a place on the list of environmental agents such as hormones, insecticides and drugs of abuse whose adverse effects are not limited to the exposed individuals but manifest in multiple generations of descendants.”
We have been warned!
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