Research Uncovers Worries About Aspartame, a Common Ingredient in Diet Coke

Aspartame and Memory: Study Raises Concerns

A recent study has ignited concerns about the potential impact of aspartame, a commonly used ingredient in Diet Coke and other soft drinks, on memory and learning abilities. The study, conducted by the Florida State University College of Medicine and published in Scientific Reports, delves into the effects of aspartame on male mice and unveils intriguing findings that warrant attention and further investigation.

Investigating Aspartame’s Impact on Memory

Over a 16-week period, researchers observed three groups of mice:

  1. High Consumption Group: This group consumed an amount of aspartame equivalent to approximately a liter of soft drinks daily, representing 15% of the FDA’s maximum recommended daily intake.
  2. Moderate Consumption Group: The second group consumed 7% of the recommended maximum intake, roughly equivalent to half a liter of soft drinks daily.
  3. Control Group: The third group was given only water.

Alarming Results

The mice were periodically subjected to maze tests, and the results were striking. Even at levels considered safe by the FDA, mice that consumed aspartame displayed spatial learning and memory deficits compared to the control group. They took significantly longer to navigate the maze and often required additional assistance.

Epigenetic Implications

Co-author Pradeep Bhide, an expert in developmental neuroscience, noted that these cognitive effects were observed in the offspring of the male mice but not in subsequent generations. This raises questions about potential epigenetic changes in sperm and their role in transmitting cognitive effects.


Calls for Further Investigation

Bhide has called for a multi-generational perspective on the effects of aspartame and urges the FDA to take a closer look in light of these findings. He joins other experts in expressing concerns about the safety of this widely used sweetener.

Expert Opinions

In June, the World Health Organization classified aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” However, it did not address the potential cognitive effects mentioned in this study. Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology physician, commented on the research findings, suggesting that even low-level consumption of aspartame might contribute to memory and learning problems that could be passed down through generations. However, she emphasized the need for further research to establish a definitive connection between aspartame and cognitive issues.

Applicability to Humans

It’s essential to note that this study was conducted on mice, and its direct applicability to humans remains uncertain.

Industry Response

Despite these findings, industry experts, including the Calorie Control Council, maintain that there is no conclusive evidence linking aspartame to cognitive impairments in humans. They continue to assert the safety of this ingredient, highlighting the importance of factual accuracy and considering the totality of evidence in assessing its safety.

Regulatory Perspective

According to Food Standards Australia & New Zealand, “All scientific evidence to date supports the safety of aspartame for use as a sweetener, however re-evaluation work is proposed.”

Phenylketonuria (PKU) Awareness

Food and beverage products containing aspartame typically carry a statement on the label to alert individuals with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU) to the presence of phenylalanine. Companies like Coca-Cola Australia take proactive steps to ensure consumer safety, emphasizing the importance of individuals with PKU avoiding the consumption of aspartame due to its phenylalanine content.

Aspartame and Cancer

In addition to concerns about memory and learning, aspartame has faced scrutiny for its potential cancer risk. A recent report from highlighted the World Health Organization’s classification of aspartame as a “possible carcinogen.”

Assessing Cancer Risk

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), WHO’s cancer research unit, made this classification based on its assessment of all available evidence. It’s important to note that this classification focuses on the potential hazard of aspartame and does not consider the safe consumption levels for individuals.

Upcoming Assessments

The IARC’s decision is set to be officially released in July, along with separate advice on safe consumption levels from a WHO expert committee on food additives known as JECFA. The concurrent release of these assessments has raised concerns among businesses and regulators.

Ongoing Research

Aspartame has been studied extensively for decades, and while some studies have suggested a link between its consumption and a slightly higher risk of cancer, the evidence remains inconclusive. Experts argue that further research is needed to determine any potential connection between this ingredient and cancer.

Regulatory Consensus

While discussions continue on the safety of aspartame, it’s important to emphasize that government food regulators, including those in Australia, have repeatedly found artificial sweeteners like aspartame to be safe within recommended daily limits. However, the ongoing debate underscores the need for continued research and vigilance in ensuring the safety of food additives like aspartame.

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