SINGAPORE: Artificial sweeteners commonly used in food and drinks could be toxic to human gut bacteria, according to research carried out by researchers from Singapore and Israel.
Researchers from institutions including Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) looked at the effects of six artificial sweeteners approved by the US Food and Drug Authority as well as 10 sports supplements containing these sweeteners on modified bacteria serving as a model for human gut bacteria. Their findings were published on Sep 25 in research journal Molecules.
Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes and are commonly used as food additives, including in products like Diet Coke and other soft drinks.
The bacteria used in the study were genetically modified to glow when they detect toxic substances introduced into their environment.
The researchers found that when they exposed each of the six sweeteners - aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, advantame, neotame and acesulfame potassium-k - to the bacteria, it would become toxic.
"We modified bioluminescent E. coli bacteria, which luminesce when they detect toxicants and act as a sensing model representative of the complex microbial system," said Ben Gurion University of the Negev's Professor Ariel Kushmaro, one of the study's researchers, in a news release published on EurekAlert!. "This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity which can cause a wide range of health issues."
Meanwhile, the tested sports supplements also triggered toxic effects in the bacteria.
"The triggered luminescent and affected growth rates indicate that all tested sport supplements were toxic to the bacteria," said the paper.
"We may speculate that the response observed in our study may be relevant to gut microbiome and thus may influence human health," it added.
In addition, the paper called attention to artificial sweeteners' effect on the environment.
"Since artificial sweeteners are resistant to wastewater treatment processes, they have been identified as emerging environmental pollutants," it said.
It added that the bioluminescent bacteria could potentially be used to detect the presence of such sweeteners in the environment.