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UT Health San Antonio finds link between autistic males and moms who drank diet soda while pregnant

Cans of carbonated diet drinks
Anthony Behar/Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via Reute
Cans of carbonated diet drinks

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A new study led by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) finds a possible association between diet sodas consumed during a maternal diet and the risk of neurodevelopment risk.

The "Daily Early-Life Exposures to Diet Soda and Aspartame Are Associated with Autism in Males: A Case-Control Study," was published in the international journal Nutrients last month.

It found boys diagnosed with autism were more than three times as likely to have been born to mothers who reported consuming at least one or more servings of diet soda a day — or a comparable amount of the artificial sweetener aspartame — while pregnant or breast feeding.

There was no significant association found in female children.

The study collected written estimates of diet beverage and aspartame consumption during pregnancy or breastfeeding from 235 mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder.

The control group included 121 children with typical neurological development.

Exposure odds were greatest among males with non-regressive — or early-onset — autism.

“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 Palmer, a senior author of the paper.

Aspartame has been reported to cause neurological problems in some users since it was first introduced.

Researchers conclude further research is still needed in other populations.

This includes a larger sample size of male and females, prospective measurement of dietary exposures, and any additional risk factors.

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