Does a common artificial sweetener increase anxiety?

Early research suggests that aspartame, an artificial sweetener commonly found in diet drinks and food, may raise the risk for anxiety, according to a recent report in Medscape and published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In a new study, investigators observed that mice that drank water containing aspartame at doses equivalent to less than 15% of the maximum daily human intake recommended by the FDA exhibited pronounced anxiety-like behaviors in a variety of maze tests, and this behavior occurred.

When consumed, aspartame becomes aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol ― all of which can have potent effects on the central nervous system, the researchers point out. Exposing the mice to aspartame also produced changes in the expression of genes in a brain region that regulates anxiety and fear. However, giving the mice diazepam alleviated the anxiety behavior in the animals.

“Extrapolation of the findings to humans suggests that aspartame consumption at doses below the FDA recommended maximum daily intake may produce neurobehavioral changes in aspartame-consuming individuals and their descendants,” the researchers report.

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