Common artificial sweeteners linked to learning and memory deficits, study finds

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Researchers at Florida State University College of Medicine have discovered that aspartame, an artificial sweetener, may have adverse effects on learning and memory.

The study involved exposing male mice to aspartame levels lower than those considered safe by the FDA. Their offspring displayed spatial learning and memory deficits in a controlled study over 16 weeks.

Context and Previous Research

This study builds on previous work by the same lab, which linked aspartame to anxiety in mice across two generations.

Recent guidelines by the World Health Organization have pointed to potential associations between aspartame and risks for metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, but they have not addressed cognitive effects until now.

Research Details

In the study, mice were divided into three groups. One group consumed only water, another consumed water with aspartame at 7% of the FDA’s recommended maximum intake, and the last group consumed water with 15% aspartame.

The groups were tested at various intervals in a Y-maze and a Barnes maze, aimed at evaluating their spatial learning and memory skills.


Mice in the control group performed well in the mazes, while those exposed to aspartame took significantly longer to complete the tasks, indicating a learning and memory deficit.

Co-author Deirdre McCarthy noted, “They compensate in some sort of way,” referring to the aspartame-exposed mice’s eventual completion of the task.

Epigenetic Transmission

Pradeep Bhide, one of the co-authors, emphasized that the effects were only observed in the children of the male mice and not in subsequent generations.

This points to an epigenetic transmission through changes in the sperm, rather than a multi-generational impact, as seen in their earlier anxiety-related study.

Implications and Future Directions

Given that the levels of aspartame consumed by the mice were lower than the FDA’s recommendations, this study calls for a reevaluation of current guidelines.

Bhide suggests that a multi-generational perspective is necessary to understand the full effects of aspartame on cognitive function.


The study adds another layer to the ongoing debate surrounding the safety of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, specifically regarding its impact on cognitive functions.

While more research is needed, the findings suggest that even levels of aspartame considered safe by regulatory agencies could have adverse effects on learning and memory.

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The research findings can be found in Scientific Reports.

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