Mice Fed Low Levels of Aspartame Passed on Learning Deficits to Their Offspring

After mice consumed the sweetener aspartame at doses notably beneath the FDA’s approved threshold, a fresh analysis revealed notable memory and learning impairments. Intriguingly, these cognitive effects were evident in their descendants, hinting at possible long-lasting intergenerational consequences.

The experiment by US researchers involved giving mice about 15 percent of the daily aspartame allowance set by the FDA. However, the implications for humans remain uncertain. Recent discussions around aspartame have intensified after WHO labeled it as a potential carcinogen.

Although some debates persist, the consensus is that specific amounts of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are harmless. The study emphasizes the necessity for regulatory bodies to take into account the hereditary impacts during safety assessments.

Historically, the emphasis has been on examining the effects of environmental exposures on unborn children through maternal interactions during gestation and lactation.

Sara Jones, a biomedical researcher, and her team at Florida State University College of Medicine, however, were intrigued by the potential influence of male exposures on offspring.

For 16 weeks, they gave two groups of male mice aspartame-infused water, simulating 7 and 15 percent of the FDA’s advised human daily limit, and contrasted them with a control group that consumed regular water.

Considering that humans typically consume only about 15 percent of the FDA’s maximum daily allowance, or 4.1 mg/kg, they adjusted the dosage to mirror this. On various cognitive assessments, mice that ingested aspartame showed noticeable impairments in spatial knowledge and short-term memory.

Both dosage levels yielded comparable outcomes. Next, aspartame-consuming male mice were paired with females who drank normal water. Both male and female progeny from these unions displayed diminished abilities in spatial learning and memory compared to those from non-aspartame-fed parents.

In one scenario, mice were tasked with locating an exit amidst 40 alternatives in a ring-shaped arena. Those without aspartame exposure located it swiftly, while those that had consumed it took an extended period.

Previously, in 2022, the same group discovered links between aspartame intake and increased anxiety in mice, persisting for two generations. The mechanism by which aspartame impacts neural functioning remains a topic of investigation.

The team hypothesizes that variations in neurotransmitter activity, especially in the amygdala, might be at the heart of the observed cognitive deficits. According to the researchers, aspartame’s impact on brain function seems to be domain-specific, given that they didn’t notice any changes in tasks related to memory recall or retention.

Epigenetic alterations in sperm, which don’t modify the primary DNA sequence, could potentially explain the transference of the observed aspartame-related traits across generations.

Further studies are essential to determine the implications for humans and to understand the extended effects of aspartame on cognitive processes.

Found in numerous processed items like chewing gum, sodas, protein bars, flavored liquids, and dessert dressings, artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, are commonplace.

Apart from individuals diagnosed with diabetes, the WHO has recently advised against using artificial sweeteners as a weight loss tool or preventative measure for diseases.