Is diet soda making you sad? New study says yes

Published: Feb. 19, 2013 at 8:49 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 at 8:55 PM EST
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EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Do you feel a little depressed at night? It might be because of something you drank during the day.

Something that a lot of us consume every day for a pick-me-up, could actually be bringing us down.

This is a brand new study that could affect most of us. It's an ingredient found in most diet drinks. It's been around for decades, and chances are, you've heard some controversy surrounding it.

But what you probably do not know is, there's a new study underway that could link some cases of depression to aspartame.

Playing in the park and just being active is one way Emily Wilkinson keeps her two young boys healthy. The other involves watching what they eat and drink.

"Aspartame is absolutely horrible," Wilkinson said. "As long as I can prevent it, they will not have it."

She's concerned about what aspartame, an artificial sweetener, could do to their young bodies.

"They actually find that it creates nerve damage in the brain which is directly is related to depression, as well as ADHD, ADD," Wilkinson told our Evansville sister station, WFIE.

Could something that many of us consume every day in diet sodas, drink mixes, and even chewing gum, actually be bringing us down?

Dr. Schultz, an Evansville physician, is keeping a close eye on those independent studies, looking into whether aspartame reduces the amount of a very important neurotransmitter in your brain that controls your mood called serotonin.

Simply put, reducing serotonin reduces happiness.

"In clinical practice, there have been many observations made that aspartame may cause problems with mood swings, emotional ability, and also can cause some problems with anxiety," Dr. Schultz said.

Dr. Schultz says he's seen children in his office with those very problems. One of his first recommendations to their parents is to remove aspartame from their diets.

"And almost immediately they noticed marked improvement in their child's behavior," Dr. Schultz said.

Aspartame could have the same effect on adults. After all, adults are more likely to consume higher amounts of aspartame than children. Especially those who grab a diet soda or use a drink mix to flavor their water, all in an effort to cut down on calories.

"I would always recommend to somebody who wants to steer clear of aspartame not to justify that with a regular sugar beverage because they're going to get excess calories from that," Corey Filbert said.

Filbert, a nutrition coordinator at Evansville, Indiana hospital St. Mary's, says the good news is some new, low-calorie artificial sweeteners were recently approved. One is taken from a fruit. The other is already on the market called Stevia.

"So where you see a lot of aspartame in beverages and diet drinks right now, I think in the future we'll see more Stevia as an option," Filbert said.

So if you're one of those feeling a little down after popping open several diet drinks, the next time reach for something else. It might just be what the doctor ordered.

"Stop the product with aspartame in it, whether it be soda or artificial candy. Have them go with a more natural type of compounds and so forth in their diet, and see if there's an improvement in their mood," Dr. Schultz said.

Or just ask Wilkinson, who credits an aspartame-free diet as one of the reasons her two boys are healthy and happy.

"Do the research because it's very important to know what you're putting into your body and how it's going to effect you long term," Wilkinson said.

Aspartame has been approved for use by the FDA for over 30 years now.

A claim cannot be made that aspartame actually causes depression because those studies are just now taking place.

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