A new study confirms that artificial sweeteners are bad for you, with research showing that products like sucralose (Splenda) are toxic to the gut.
Scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore looked at the effects of FDA-approved artificial sweeteners and sports supplements on E. coli bacteria and found that they could have toxic effects on the bug, and therefore human health.
Ariel Kushmaro, a professor at Ben-Gurion University and author of the study, said:
“Artificial sweeteners have become increasingly controversial due to their questionable influence on consumers’ health. They are found in most foods, and many consume this added ingredient without their knowledge.”
Analyzing These 6 Artificial Sweeteners
In the study, 6 artificial sweeteners went under the team’s microscope:
- Acesulfame potassium-k
- In addition, Kushmaro and her colleagues analyzed 10 sports supplements containing the sweeteners to determine if they had toxic effects on E. coli.
Even if you purposefully avoid artificial sweeteners, chances are you’re consuming them without realizing it. Some brands of whole wheat bread sold in the supermarket are sweetened with sucralose, the main ingredient in Splenda. Pedialyte contains acesulfame potassium-k, meaning you could be unknowingly damaging your children’s microbiome. And “diet” sodas often contain aspartame or sucralose.
Artificial sweeteners have also been found to be polluting U.S. waterways.
And don’t be fooled by the term “natural sweeteners” on food labels. The researchers also found artificial sweeteners in products like microwave popcorn, fruit juice, yogurt, and numerous other items with “natural sweeteners” on their labels. It’s easy for food manufacturers to sneak artificial sweeteners into your food, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have a legal definition of the word “natural.”
The authors write in the journal Molecules that the gut microbiome “plays a key role in human metabolism,” and artificial sweeteners can “affect host health, such as inducing glucose intolerance.”
Glucose intolerance is an umbrella term that refers to the metabolic conditions which result in higher-than-normal blood glucose.
How Artificial Sweeteners Affect Gut Bacteria
The team wanted to know how consumption of these foods affected E. coli for a specific reason.
“E. coli is an indigenous gastrointestinal microorganism and serves as a model for the gut bacteria. The indigenous gastrointestinal tract microflora has profound effects on the anatomical, physiological, and immunological development of the host.”
All of the sweeteners had a toxic effect on E. coli, and just 1 milligram per milliliter of the sugar substitutes was all it took to see the changes. Sucralose was found to be the most toxic of the 6 products.
Other previously-published studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners can lead to obesity and diabetes in mice, and may worsen gut issues stemming from Crohn’s disease.
The study showed that the mice treated with neotame, found in NutraSweet, had different metabolic patterns than the untreated rodents. Furthermore, the scientists noted a decrease in several important genes found in the human gut.
What’s more, concentrations of several fatty acids, lipids, and cholesterol were higher in mice treated with neotame than in those not.
In light of the findings, Kushmaro warned:
“People should significantly reduce or avoid consumption of artificial sweeteners.”
That’s good advice. Artificial sweeteners have been linked in the past to weight gain, preterm delivery, and, yes, negative effects on gut microbes. There is even limited evidence that artificial sweeteners can cause cancer.