The Link Between Artificial Sweeteners and Memory Loss 

The topic of Alzheimer’s Disease and artificial sweeteners is of immense interest to me, because my mother consumed A LOT of diet soda during her lifetime. And I mean A LOT! The first sound I would hear every morning was the sound of a can of diet soda being opened. I never saw my mother drink water…..ever. But she always had a can of diet soda by her side. 

When my mother had imaging done on her brain, after years of worrisome symptoms, the neurologist said that her brain looked like swiss cheese. I asked if there was any chance that her diet soda consumption might’ve played a role.

Sadly, he said there was NO WAY diet soda could do this…..so my mother continued to drink her favorite beverage. 

After she passed away, science started to emerge to show the link between artificial sweeteners and memory loss. 

This is what I discovered. 

Explore the link between artificial sweeteners and memory loss

Artificial sweeteners have been widely used as sugar substitutes for decades, appealing to those looking to reduce their caloric intake and manage weight. These sugar alternatives are commonly found in various food and beverage products, marketed as safe and healthy alternatives to sugar. However, recent studies have raised concerns about the potential dangers of artificial sweeteners, particularly regarding their association with memory loss. In this article, we delve into the emerging research that sheds light on the possible connection between artificial sweeteners and memory loss. 

Understanding Artificial Sweeteners:

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium, are chemically synthesized compounds designed to mimic the taste of sugar without the added calories. They are used in numerous products ranging from diet sodas and sugar-free snacks to tabletop sweeteners. Due to their wide availability and low-calorie appeal, these sweeteners have become popular choices for individuals aiming to manage their weight and sugar intake. 

The Memory Loss Debate:

Over the years, several studies have explored the potential adverse effects of artificial sweeteners on human health, including links to metabolic disorders, weight gain, and even cancer. However, the connection between artificial sweeteners and memory loss has gained attention more recently. 

A study published in the journal “Alzheimer’s & Dementia” in 2017 (my mother passed in 2016 so her neurologist never had the chance to see this research before she passed) found a potential correlation between the intake of artificially sweetened beverages and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and stroke. (In addition to Alzheimer’s Disease, my mother also had several mini-strokes) The research, based on data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort, suggested that higher consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing these cognitive health issues. While the study did not prove causation, it did highlight a concerning trend. 

Mechanisms Underlying the Potential Link:

Researchers analyzed health data from nearly 3,000 adults who had filled out diet surveys, and determined their incidence of stroke or dementia over 10 years. The findings were alarming. Compared with people who said they didn’t consume diet drinks, those who had at least one per day suffered three times more strokes, and were three times more likely to develop dementia. (Again, my mother consumed much more than 1 diet soda per day.) Consumption of regular (non-diet) soft drinks was not linked to a higher risk of these brain problems. And the results were unchanged when accounting for other important factors such as gender, diet, smoking, and physical activity. 

Another connection between artificial sweeteners and memory loss suggests that artificial sweeteners may alter the gut microbiota, affecting gut-brain communication, potentially influencing cognitive functions. (My mother struggled with IBS and was taking the anticholinergic drug Bentyl for that. Anticholinergic drugs are also known to cause memory loss.)  

Practical Recommendations:

If you’re concerned about your cognitive health, you’ll want to consider moderating your consumption of artificial sweeteners and opting for natural alternatives like stevia or using small amounts of natural sugars like honey or maple syrup. Moreover, maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and staying mentally active are all crucial factors in promoting brain health. 

Conclusion:

While not all healthcare providers are aware of the dangers of artificial sweeteners and memory loss, it is essential to be mindful of these risks, especially if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s Disease. You should make informed decisions about their dietary choices and overall lifestyle, considering the latest evidence and consulting healthcare professionals when needed. Ultimately, a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and cognitive engagement remain key pillars for maintaining optimal brain health throughout your life. 

Scientific Research: 

https://dornsife.usc.edu/news/stories/sugar-substitute-impair-memory-later/#:~:text=Source%3A%20iStock.)-,Teens%20who%20drink%20diet%20sodas%20or%20eat%20foods%20with%20low,brain%20regions%20involved%20in%20memory. 

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/could-artificial-sweeteners-be-bad-for-your-brain-2017060711849 

Written by Dr. Becky

Dr Becky is a retired functional medicine practitioner; daughter to parents who both died of Alzheimer’s; and now an Alzheimer’s Prevention Advocate, because an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.

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