Artificial sweeteners are toxic to gut microbes

Posted Nov 2, 2018 by Tim Sandle
Are artificial sweeteners harmful? This a question that scientists have been grappling with for several decades. While sweeteners help with weight-loss programs, new evidence suggests they affect our microbiome.
Many people and many types of cancer cells gobble sugar.
Many people and many types of cancer cells gobble sugar.
Umberto Salvagnin (CC BY 2.0)
There have been scores of studies into artificial sweeteners and yet there is no firm consensus as to the health effects from these chemicals. For some areas of health concern, such as cancer, research suggests that in moderate quantities sweeteners are unlikely to cause harm.
A newer area of concern is, however, with the effect on the human gut microbiome. This is an area of interest because the gut microbiome is connected with a number of health and ill-health issues. The microbiome is a descriptor for the totality of microorganisms in a given ecological niche – in this case the human gut. There are 100 trillion microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract. Here there are populations of some bacteria regarded as beneficial and it is established that where these organisms decrease in numbers, this can lead to health concerns.
According to the World Health Organization  Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a common bacterium usually...
According to the World Health Organization, Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a common bacterium usually found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals and humans, though some strains, such as enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), spread by contaminated foods, can cause severe illness.
Mattosaurus / Wikimedia Commons
For instance, the gut microbiota seems to play a role in the development and progression of obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome. It has also been linked to diabetes and autoimmune diseases, in relation to having les beneficial organisms or disruption to the microbiome through drug treatments. Artificial sweeteners can also change the way our bodies process fat and energy.
The new research into sweeteners and the gut microbiome comes from Professor Ariel Kushmaro, who is based at Ben-Gurion University. The study demonstrates, as Business Insider summarizes, that common artificial sweeteners could interfere with the way beneficial gut bacteria perform.
Saccharin - sodium salt  pure.
Saccharin - sodium salt, pure.
Rillke (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The researchers examined six sweeteners (each approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), including aspartame, sucralose and saccharine. Cultures of the bacterium Escherichia coli were dosed with each sweetener multiple times. This led to a measurable inhibiting effect where the organisms did not grow. The sweeteners exerted a stress-effect upon the bacterial cells.
Based on the levels of dosing, the research showed that a couple of artificially sweetened sodas or coffees may be sufficient to have an impact upon gut health. This is because it becomes harder for the body to process regular sugar and other carbohydrates. However, given the research was conducted on laboratory cultures further study is required, including using human subjects.
The new research has been published in the journal Molecules. The research paper is titled “Measuring Artificial Sweeteners Toxicity Using a Bioluminescent Bacterial Panel.”