Using artificial sweeteners causes biochemical changes in the body and actually throw off the body’s ability to monitor how many calories we consume. FDA-approved artificial sweeteners and sport supplements have now been found to be toxic to digestive gut microbes, according to a new paper published in Molecules.

Artificial sweeteners are one of the most common food additives worldwide, frequently consumed in diet and zero-calorie sodas and other products. Large examinations have tracked biochemical changes in the body using high-throughput metabolomics.

The collaborative study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore examined the relative toxicity of six artificial sweeteners:

1. aspartame
2. sucralose
3. saccharine
4. neotame
5. advantame
6. 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.”

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.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 11 to 27 percent of ingested sucralose is absorbed by the human body (FDA 1998). Research published by the manufacturer of sucralose (Roberts 2000) shows that when 8 healthy male adults where given sucralose (in 1 mg/kg amounts), between 10.4% and 30.6% of the sucralose was absorbed. In addition, 1.6% to 12.2% of the sucralose accumulates in the body.

Aspartame is a multi-potential carcinogen, even consumed daily at 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That is a lower quantity than the maximum recommended by the FDA (50 mg/kg of body weight) and the European Union (40 mg/kg).

It increases the incidence of malignant tumours in rats. In the females it increases leukaemia and lymphomas, as well as cancerous cells in the pelvis and urethra. In the males, it especially increases the incidence of malignant tumours in peripheral nerves.

“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.