Artificial Sweeteners, Sport Supplements Could Be Toxic to Your Gut, Study Says

Recent research found even more evidence that artificial sweeteners can harm you.

Scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, analyzed how FDA-approved artificial sweeteners and sport supplements could affect E. coli bacteria. Published in Molecules on September 25, the study revealed that they could have toxic effects on E. coli, and therefore on human health.

"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," Ariel Kushmaro, a professor at Ben-Gurion University and author of the study, told Newsweek.

The team looked at six artificial sweeteners: aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame and acesulfame potassium-k. They also analyzed 10 sport supplements containing those sweeteners to determine their toxicity.

Many popular foods contain artificial sweeteners, even when they are assumed to be healthy, according to Business Insider. For example, some whole wheat breads at grocery stores contain sucralose, which is the main ingredient in Splenda, to help sweeten the taste of whole wheat. Pedialyte contains acesulfame potassium-k, and aspartame is used to sweeten some diet drinks.

Those artificial sweeteners are also found in microwave popcorn, fruit juice, yogurt and many other items, even when the label reads "natural sweeteners," since the FDA doesn't have a legal definition of the word "natural." The scientists looked specifically at how they affected E. coli.

"E. coli is an indigenous gastrointestinal microorganism and serves as a model for the gut bacteria," Kushmaro said. "The indigenous gastrointestinal tract microflora has profound effects on the anatomical, physiological and immunological development of the host." The E. coli the scientists used in their study luminesced when it detected toxins. Sucralose had the most significant effect, as just 1 milligram of it affected a strain of the E. coli.

Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners at a coffee shop in San Rafael, California. Such sweeteners could have a toxic effect on gut bacteria. JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

This wasn't the first time scientists were able to show that artificial sweeteners can affect gut bacteria. The study confirmed the results of a 2014 study in Nature, which looked at how the sweeteners can lead to glucose intolerance, likely due to their effect on the gut microbiome. Prior research found that artificial sweeteners lead to obesity and diabetes in mice and might even make gut issues stemming from Chron's disease even worse.

Despite their wide usage in foods and drinks, Kushmaro warns, "People should significantly reduce or avoid consumption of artificial sweeteners."