U.S – In a study conducted by the Florida State University (FSU) College of Medicine, concerning revelations have emerged about the potential cognitive effects of the artificial sweetener aspartame.
The research, spanning a controlled 16-week exposure study, focused on mice and found spatial learning and memory deficits among the offspring of male mice exposed to low doses of the chemical.
These cognitive effects were observed at levels even lower than what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems safe for human consumption, sparking concerns about the sweetener’s impact on brain function.
Aspartame, a widely used artificial sweetener in various diet beverages and low-calorie products, has been a topic of global scrutiny, particularly after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a “possible carcinogen” in July 2023.
WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conclusion stemmed from its independent review of scientific literature on aspartame’s health effects.
While the FDA and industry groups contested this classification, maintaining the sweetener’s safety, the FSU research adds a new dimension to the debate by highlighting potential cognitive implications. Previous concerns predominantly focused on metabolic and cardiovascular risks, as well as cancer.
During the study, mice were divided into three groups: a control group consuming only water, a group ingesting 7 percent of the FDA’s recommended maximum aspartame intake, and a group ingesting 15 percent aspartame.
These mice were then subjected to rigorous cognitive assessments at various intervals using a Y-maze and a Barnes maze, the latter presenting a challenging spatial learning task.
Compensatory learning strategies
The results were striking. Aspartame-exposed mice exhibited notable delays in finding the “safe” escape box in the Barnes maze.
Intriguingly, these mice eventually devised alternative learning strategies, indicating a compensatory mechanism in response to the initial deficits.
This adaptive behavior, although significant, raises questions about the long-term implications of such compensatory strategies on cognitive health.
FSU researchers have underscored the importance of a comprehensive, multigenerational examination of aspartame’s effects, urging regulatory bodies, especially the FDA, to delve deeper into the cognitive impact of this widely consumed sweetener.