The non-sugar, low-calorie sweetener aspartame — which is found in many sugar-free or “diet” foods and drinks — has been linked to potential problems with memory and learning, according to a study from the Florida State University (FSU) College of Medicine.

In the study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, male mice that consumed aspartame — even at levels deemed safe by the FDA — had offspring that “demonstrated spatial learning and memory deficits,” a press release from FSU stated.

Over a 16-week period, the researchers studied three groups of mice.

One group consumed 15% of the FDA’s maximum recommended intake of daily aspartame per day, which is equivalent to four 8-oz. sodas.

A second group consumed 7% of the recommended maximum intake (two 8-oz. sodas daily).

A third control group consumed only water.

The mice were tested in mazes at intervals of four weeks, eight weeks and 12 weeks. The ones that drank only water were able to find the “safe” box to escape from the maze much faster than the ones that consumed aspartame, the researchers found.

The aspartame-consuming groups eventually completed the task, but they took “much longer” to do it and sometimes needed extra help, the release said.

“There is some overlap in terms of learning, memory and anxiety, in the sense that often there is an emotional component to our learning,” said co-author Pradeep Bhide, the Jim and Betty Ann Rodgers eminent scholar chair of developmental neuroscience in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, in the press release.

“When there’s an emotional impact, you remember better. But this is a quite distinct function and brain network.”

He also said, “The second thing we noticed here, unlike the anxiety (research) — this went only [in] one generation. It was not seen in the grandchildren, only in the children [of the male mice], which is another line of support that these kinds of transmissions occur due to epigenetic changes in the sperm.”

Based on the study findings, Bhide suggested the FDA takes a “closer, multi-generational perspective on the effects of aspartame.”

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