LOS ANGELES— Low-calorie sugar substitutes were meant to replace sugary diets that can harm your health, but it turns out they can be just as bad. A new preclinical study by researchers at USC Dornsife has found that consuming artificial sweeteners during adolescence can lead to long-term memory problems later on. Memory impairment can stem from sweeteners affecting metabolic processes in the body, increasing the risk of diabetes and metabolic-related diseases.
“Research using rodent models and low-calorie sweeteners has typically involved consumption levels that far exceed the FDA’s ‘acceptable daily intake’ levels and have used only one sweetener,” says Lindsey Schier. , assistant professor of biological sciences at USC Dornsife, in a university outing. “To design our research to be more applicable to humans, we kept consumption levels within the ADI and used multiple low-calorie sweeteners to determine whether effects were specific to a given sweetener or general across sweeteners.”
The team asked rats to drink water sugared with a selection of low-calorie sugar substitutes, including saccharin, ACE-K and stevia. Sweeteners are a common ingredient in human foods and beverages, and researchers have used amounts that follow FDA-approved guidelines for humans.
A separate group of rats drank plain water with their food. After a month, the rats became adults, and the study authors assessed their memory using two different tests. The first involved a maze where the rats had to find their way to the exit. To do this, rats must avoid repeating dead-end paths they have found.
The other test involved a memory test to see if the rats could remember an object they had seen before. Tests showed that rats that drank sugary drinks while growing up had trouble remembering objects and paths compared to rats that drank only plain water.
Do artificial sweeteners interfere with the sense of taste?
The team also encountered other sightings. Consuming artificial sugar caused the rats to have fewer receptors on their tongues that detect sweet taste, possibly causing them to eat or drink more sugary foods in order to detect flavor.
They also discovered changes in the way blood glucose moves through their intestines, which could point to a mechanism for how sugar affects memory. Additionally, the researchers found long-term neurological changes in the mice’s brains, with the areas most affected being those that control memory and reward-motivated behavior.
“While our results do not necessarily indicate that a person should not consume low calorie sweeteners in general, they do highlight that habitual consumption of low calorie sweeteners early in life can have unintended and long-lasting effects,” notes study co-author Scott Kanoski. , associate professor of biological sciences at USC Dornsife.
The study is published in the journal JCI Overview.