Daily Early-Life Exposures to Diet Soda and Aspartame Are Associated with Autism in Males: A Case-Control Study

Nutrients. 2023 Aug 29;15(17):3772. doi: 10.3390/nu15173772.


Since its introduction, aspartame-the leading sweetener in U.S. diet sodas (DS)-has been reported to cause neurological problems in some users. In prospective studies, the offspring of mothers who consumed diet sodas/beverages (DSB) daily during pregnancy experienced increased health problems. We hypothesized that gestational/early-life exposure to ≥1 DS/day (DSearly) or equivalent aspartame (ASPearly: ≥177 mg/day) increases autism risk. The case-control Autism Tooth Fairy Study obtained retrospective dietary recalls for DSB and aspartame consumption during pregnancy/breastfeeding from the mothers of 235 offspring with autism spectrum disorder (ASD: cases) and 121 neurotypically developing offspring (controls). The exposure odds ratios (ORs) for DSearly and ASPearly were computed for autism, ASD, and the non-regressive conditions of each. Among males, the DSearly odds were tripled for autism (OR = 3.1; 95% CI: 1.02, 9.7) and non-regressive autism (OR = 3.5; 95% CI: 1.1, 11.1); the ASPearly odds were even higher: OR = 3.4 (95% CI: 1.1, 10.4) and 3.7 (95% CI: 1.2, 11.8), respectively (p < 0.05 for each). The ORs for non-regressive ASD in males were almost tripled but were not statistically significant: DSearly OR = 2.7 (95% CI: 0.9, 8.4); ASPearly OR = 2.9 (95% CI: 0.9, 8.8). No statistically significant associations were found in females. Our findings contribute to the growing literature raising concerns about potential offspring harm from maternal DSB/aspartame intake in pregnancy.

Keywords: artificial sweeteners; aspartame; autism; autism spectrum disorder; diet; diet beverages; diet soda; high-intensity sweeteners; non-nutritive sweeteners; pregnancy.

MeSH terms

  • Aspartame / adverse effects
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / etiology
  • Autistic Disorder* / chemically induced
  • Autistic Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Aspartame