Study Finds Artificial Sweetener Toxic To The Gut

Recently published in Molecules, a collaborative paper by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore concluded several artificial sweeteners and supplements, approved by the FDA, were lethal to digestive gut microbes.

Found in an abundance of low-calorie and reduced-sugar food products, many individuals may not be aware they are imbibing these potentially harmful products. Additionally, artificial sweeteners are more often being found in water supplies making them an increasingly troublesome pollutant.

The relative toxicity of six artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k) and 10 artificial sweetener-containing sport supplements were specified in this study. Results showed that when microbes in the gastrointestinal tract were exposed to concentrations of only 1 mg/mL of the artificial sweeteners they became toxic.

“We modified bioluminescent E. coli bacteria, which luminesce when they detect toxicants and act as a sensing model representative of the complex microbial system,” explains Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, John A. Ungar Chair in Biotechnology in the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering, and member of the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology and the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev.

According to Prof Kushmaro, one benefit of the tested bioluminescent bacterial panel is the possibility to test for artificial sweeteners in the environment. While more research is warranted, this study offers a constructive step in understanding the toxicity of artificial sweeteners to the gut microbiome.

Our thoughts? This research is interesting, however, it doesn’t mean that artificial sweeteners are toxic to humans. Firstly, the study was done in “modified” bacteria. Secondly, the “toxic” dose was found to be 1 mg/mL, which is much higher than what is typically observed in drinks and consumable products. This also doesn’t mean that there is no side-effects from consuming artificial sweeteners. We simply need more research and data. It is clear that these compounds impact the bacteria of the gut. But “How” is the question.

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