New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has linked aspartame, a common artificial sweetener, to anxiety-like behavior in mice.
The study included mice that were randomly divided into two groups: the first group received plain drinking water while the second group received a solution of water and aspartame equivalent to 8% to 15% of the FDA-recommended daily aspartame intake for humans. The dosage of aspartame continued for 12 weeks; during that time, the behavior, neurotransmitter signaling, and gene expression in the amygdalas of the mice were monitored.
The mice receiving aspartame showed significant anxiety-like behavior, and the anxiety-like effects could be observed in the offspring of male mice exposed to aspartame up to two generations later. Additionally, changes in amygdala gene expression were observed. Anxiety symptoms were relieved when the mice received diazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety in humans. The combination of gene expression data and diazepam data suggested that the amygdalas of the mice were shifted toward excitation on the excitation-inhibition scale. The authors described the striking effects of aspartame on anxiety-like behavior in mice as “robust” and “completely unexpected.” Extrapolating these findings to the human population suggests that millions of people’s mental health may be impacted by aspartame intake.
Anxiety can be damaging to the heart, especially in those who have preexisting heart disease. Anxiety can cause increases in both heart rate and blood pressure, which put stress on the cardiovascular system. Over time, these effects can build up and have a serious impact on heart health. To decrease stress, physical exercise and meditation can be helpful; this research suggests that avoiding artificial sweeteners such as aspartame may also be helpful.