The non-sugar, low-calorie sweetener aspartame — which is found in many sugar-free or “diet” foods and drinks — has been linked to potential problems with memory and learning, according to a study from the Florida State University (FSU) College of Medicine.
In the study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, male mice that consumed aspartame — even at levels deemed safe by the FDA — had offspring that “demonstrated spatial learning and memory deficits,” a press release from FSU stated.
Over a 16-week period, the researchers studied three groups of mice.
One group consumed 15% of the FDA’s maximum recommended intake of daily aspartame per day, which is equivalent to four 8-oz. sodas.
A second group consumed 7% of the recommended maximum intake (two 8-oz. sodas daily).
A third control group consumed only water.
The mice were tested in mazes at intervals of four weeks, eight weeks and 12 weeks. The ones that drank only water were able to find the “safe” box to escape from the maze much faster than the ones that consumed aspartame, the researchers found.
The aspartame-consuming groups eventually completed the task, but they took “much longer” to do it and sometimes needed extra help, the release said.
“There is some overlap in terms of learning, memory and anxiety, in the sense that often there is an emotional component to our learning,” said co-author Pradeep Bhide, the Jim and Betty Ann Rodgers eminent scholar chair of developmental neuroscience in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, in the press release.
“When there’s an emotional impact, you remember better. But this is a quite distinct function and brain network.”
He also said, “The second thing we noticed here, unlike the anxiety (research) — this went only [in] one generation. It was not seen in the grandchildren, only in the children [of the male mice], which is another line of support that these kinds of transmissions occur due to epigenetic changes in the sperm.”
Based on the study findings, Bhide suggested the FDA takes a “closer, multi-generational perspective on the effects of aspartame.”
In June, a committee within the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement classifying the sweetener as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” a claim that industry experts have vehemently denied.
WHO, however, has not addressed the potential cognitive effects of aspartame, the FSU release noted.
Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology physician located in Washington, D.C., was not involved in the FSU study but commented on its findings.
“The results of this study suggest that even low-level consumption of aspartame may contribute to memory and learning problems that may be hereditary across generations,” she told Fox News Digital.
“In addition, the study’s findings suggest that aspartame may cause genetic changes in sperm that may affect future generations.”
Johnson-Arbor also pointed out, however, that previous studies did not demonstrate a similar association between aspartame consumption, memory and learning.
“More studies are therefore needed to conclusively establish the connection between aspartame and brain damage,” she concluded.
A chief limitation of FSU’s research is that the study was conducted on mice only.
“The results may not be indicative of aspartame’s effects on the human brain,” said Johnson-Arbor.
“As additional studies involving aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are ongoing, concerned individuals may want to limit their daily intake of artificial sweeteners until the true human health risks of these compounds are clarified,” she advised.
Industry experts, including the Calorie Control Council, defended aspartame in light of FSU’s study.
“Not only should the results of this study not be extended to humans nor the general population, but there is also no link between low- and no-calorie sweeteners and cognitive impairments, such as memory loss and learning deficiencies in humans,” said Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council in Washington, D.C., in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“Further, the reported findings of this study are in contradiction to the totality of evidence and the numerous global health organizations that have regarded aspartame as safe, following rigorous assessments,” he continued.
“Facts are important for the millions of consumers who look to low- and no-calorie sweeteners for managing sugar and calorie reduction, and they can continue to feel comfortable knowing aspartame is safe to consume.”