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Artificial Sweeteners May Cause Digestive Disease And Discomfort

Aspartame, sucralose and saccharin interfere with bacterial communication in the gut, new study says.

Replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners is not a good idea, it turns out.

While it’s known that added sugar is not good for our bodies, now we also know that six FDA-approved artificial sweeteners — aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k — could cause long-term health problems as well.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor Ariel Kushmaro revealed three years ago that these six sweeteners are toxic to digestive gut microbes.

Now, he and colleagues from BGU and from Cyprus report in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences that three of these substances — aspartame, sucralose and saccharin — interfere with bacterial communication.

And this, they theorize, could lead to digestive diseases and discomfort.

“The fact that bacteria use quorum sensing to communicate with each other revolutionizes our understanding and enables us to provide clearer answers,” said lead researcher Karina Golberg from BGU’s department of biotechnology engineering.

“Artificial sweeteners disrupt that communication, which indicates that artificial sweeteners may be problematic in the long run,” said Golberg.

Athletes at risk from sports supplements

Using bioluminescent indicator bacteria enabled them to see the effect on bacterial communication caused by the artificial substances, both in pure samples and in sports supplements. Reduced luminescence indicated a disruption in bacterial communication.

The scientists found at least one of the three problematic sweeteners in every sports supplement they tested. These supplements are often consumed by athletes, and that may put them at particular risk.

“Since athletes pay attention to their diet and use supplements to improve their performance in training sessions and competitions, we hypothesized that they may be the highest consumers of artificial sweeteners, because many of the supplements they use contain artificial sweeteners in an undisclosed amount,” the researchers explained.

Kushmaro said he hopes the research will push the food industry to reevaluate the use of artificial sweeteners.

“There is little accurate labeling of artificial sweeteners on products, which makes it difficult to know how much each product contains,” said Kushmaro, who heads BGU’s Laboratory of Environmental Biotechnology, in which Golberg is a researcher. Kushmaro also is affiliate with the university’s Ilse Katz Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

This is not the only cause of his concern.

In his previous research, Kushmaro noted that the consumption of artificial sweeteners has been linked with cancer, weight gain, metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes and alteration of gut microbiota activity.

Artificial sweeteners also have been identified as environmental pollutants, as traces have been found in drinking and surface water as well as groundwater aquifers.

Additional researchers taking part in the current study included Victor Markus, Orr Share, Marilou Shagan, Barak Halpern, Tal Bar, Esti Kramarsky-Winter and  professor Robert Marks of Ben-Gurion University; Prof. Kerem Terali of Near East University in Cyprus; and Prof. Nazmi Ozer of Grine American University in Cyprus.

Produced in association with Israel21C.