FDA-approved artificial sweeteners and sport supplements were found to be toxic to digestive gut microbes, according to a new paper published in Molecules by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
The collaborative study indicated relative toxicity of six artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k) and 10 sport supplements containing these artificial sweeteners. The bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic when exposed to concentrations of only one mg./ml. of the artificial sweeteners.
“We modified bioluminescent E. coli bacteria, which luminesce when they detect toxicants and act as a sensing model representative of the complex microbial system,” says 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. “This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity which can cause a wide range of health issues.”
Interestingly, artificial sweeteners are also beginning to have an impact environmentally as well as in the body human. Sucralose is being considered as an important “tracer,” or a substance which helps identify where contamination comes from. It doesn’t biodegrade easily, so it remains intact in water supplies for long periods, making it easy to trace downstream.
“The whole purpose of having an artificial sweetener is that the body doesn’t recognize it as fuel, so you don’t use it for energy,” says Piero Gardinali, associate professor at Florida International University. “We have seen that if you put it in a wastewater treatment plant, nothing happens to it because the microorganisms don’t recognize it as food, either.”
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, for example, which serves the Los Angeles area, monitors its water for sucralose—to reveal the presence of treated wastewater—once a year, according to Stuart Krasner, the district’s principal environmental specialist. Sucralose has been used for similar purposes elsewhere in the U.S. and across Europe, and Henry Briceño, also a professor at Florida International University, says he is working with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to apply it to assessing the impacts of Hurricane Irma.
Briceño has found that sucralose can potentially be used not just as a tracer—which flags a potential problem—but also as an indicator, which means it can help to determine the extent of the problem. He’s presented research findings based on several analyses he’s done that suggest once sucralose levels in a body of water rise above 57 parts per trillion, it’s an indicator that the water is experiencing some level of human impact and the onset of eutrophication—nutrient loading that can encourage plant growth and suffocate animal life. The extent of damage, he says, is deemed significant when levels exceed 150 parts per trillion.
The argument countering the environmental impact argument has been the benefits of artificial sweeteners as it relates to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. However, the research has shown mixed results on both these fronts.
Some observational studies have connected artificial sweetener use with reductions in BMI and body fat while others have shown a connection between use and increases in both. Experimental study results have been equally mixed. The overall indication is that replacement of sugar with artificial sweeteners seems to have a positive benefit as it relates to BMI and body fat reductions.
In relation to Type 2 Diabetes, the research results seem to be more consistent.
Concerns have been raised that artificial sweeteners could increase insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.
A group of scientists found that glucose intolerance increased in mice fed an artificial sweetener. That is, the mice became less able to stabilize their blood sugar levels after eating sugar.
The same group of researchers also found that when germ-free mice were implanted with the bacteria of the glucose intolerant mice, they also became glucose intolerant.
Some observational studies in humans have found that frequent long-term consumption of artificial sweeteners is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
However, currently the link between type 2 diabetes and artificial sweeteners is just an association. More studies are required to determine whether artificial sweeteners cause an increased risk.
The research into the negative impact on gut bacteria of artificial sweeteners seems to be clearer. Sucralose and other sweeteners have a significant negative impact on gut bactera. This bodes poorly for gut health and health overall.
Artificial sweeteners are used in countless food products and soft drinks with reduced sugar content. Many people consume this added ingredient without their knowledge. Moreover, artificial sweeteners have been identified as emerging environmental pollutants, and can be found in drinking and surface water, and groundwater aquifers.
“The results of this study might help in understanding the relative toxicity of artificial sweeteners and the potential of negative effects on the gut microbial community as well as the environment.
Furthermore, the tested bioluminescent bacterial panel can potentially be used for detecting artificial sweeteners in the environment,” says Prof. Kushmaro.
Journal reference – Dorin Harpaz, Loo Yeo, Francesca Cecchini, Trish Koon, Ariel Kushmaro, Alfred Tok, Robert Marks, Evgeni Eltzov. Measuring Artificial Sweeteners Toxicity Using a Bioluminescent Bacterial Panel. Molecules, 2018
Article resources – Science Daily