A new study out of Florida State University found that aspartame, a common artificial sweetener, may be linked with anxiety in mice.
The researchers observed mice before and after consuming aspartame, and found that mice started showing anxiety symptoms after consuming the sweetener. While more research is needed, this study suggests that aspartame may have a similar impact on anxiety levels in larger mammals.
Lots of research has been conducted on aspartame to assess the safety of aspartame, and it is recognized by regulatory bodies as safe for consumption and addition to food products. But recommendations around the safety of food additives changes from time to time as new research emerges.
The researchers note that the "human population at risk of aspartame’s potential mental health effects may be larger than current expectations, which only include aspartame-consuming individuals." They hypothesize that consuming amounts lower than the recommended maximum may produce feelings of anxiousness.
New learnings may or may not change the safety labeling of the sweetener, but it is important for the general public to know what they're consuming—especially if they have been trying to address their own anxiety symptoms.
It should be noted that this study was conducted using rodents only and more research is needed to determine whether or not these findings can be applied to humans.
If you're concerned about your own dietary choices, you can always experiment with removing aspartame from your life and seeing if symptoms improve. To do this, you'll need to keep detailed notes on what you eat and how you feel throughout the day so that you can make the right connections. Your doctor or dietitian can give you more information on how to accurately determine whether aspartame is affecting your moods.
In the meantime, if you want to enjoy sweet foods but keep your calories on the low side, you can experiment with the following sweeteners and see how you feel.
- Monk fruit. Monk fruit sweetener comes from a fruit and is ultra-sweet so the amount you need is low in calories. You’ll often find it combined with a sugar alcohol like erythritol because it’s easy to overdo it with pure monk fruit sweetener.
- Stevia. Stevia comes from a plant and is low in calories. The main complaint that people have with stevia is that there is a noticeable aftertaste in most applications. Some people are bothered by it more than others.
- Sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol, etc.). Sugar alcohols are sweet and low in calories, but they have some downsides. First, xylitol can be deadly to dogs, so many dog owners choose not to have xylitol in their homes so that there are no accidental ingestions. Second, sugar alcohols may cause digestive discomfort in some people—particularly people who have SIBO and other microbiome imbalances.
Further research is needed to determine whether there's a definitive link between aspartame and anxiety. However, if you're concerned that your diet could be affecting your mental health, it may be worth taking a closer look at the ingredients of your food and drinks to see if aspartame is present. By tracking what you eat and how you feel throughout the day, you might start to make connections between certain foods and mood changes.
It's also important to remember that nutrition isn't the only factor in overall health and well-being - leading an active lifestyle, getting enough sleep, practicing stress management techniques, and maintaining social connections are all essential for good mental health!
Jones SK, McCarthy DM, Vied C, Stanwood GD, Schatschneider C, Bhide PG. Transgenerational transmission of aspartame-induced anxiety and changes in glutamate-GABA signaling and gene expression in the amygdala. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2022;119(49). doi:10.1073/pnas.2213120119