Diet sodas, other aspartame-sweetened beverages linked to autism, UT Health San Antonio study finds

Study found link between male offspring and mothers who drank diet soda daily

SAN ANTONIO – Drinking even one diet soda a day during pregnancy or while breastfeeding could increase your male child’s risk of autism.

That is the finding of a new study led by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

In a case-controlled study, researchers found that boys with diagnosed autism were three times as likely as neurotypically developing boys to have been born to mothers who reported drinking at least one serving a day of diet soda or other aspartame-sweetened beverage during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

The same connection was not found in female offspring.

“These associations do not prove causality, but taken in concert with reports from earlier studies of increased prematurity and cardiometabolic health impacts among infants and children exposed daily to diet beverages and/or aspartame during pregnancy, our findings raise new questions about potential neurological impacts that need to be addressed,” said Raymond F. Palmer, Ph.D., senior author of the paper, and professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

The study was published in “Nutrients,” an international journal of human nutrition.

The study looked at more than 350 children — 235 with autism spectrum disorder and 121 with typical neurological development. The mothers of the children provided written estimates of their consumption of diet sodas and aspartame consumption.

The study authors said that while more research is needed, the findings are concerning.

“The findings suggest that women should exercise caution when considering the use of these products during pregnancy and breastfeeding until further assessments are available,” Fowler said. “Maternal consumption of these products during periods of heightened offspring vulnerability represents a modifiable potential risk factor, the elimination of which might help to protect susceptible offspring in the next generation.”

In a press release about the study, researchers said aspartame consumption has also been reported to cause neurological problems in some users.

In July, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency deemed aspartame as a “possible” cause of cancer.

About the Author:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 25 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.