New research finds that gut microbiome damage from artificial sweeteners is even greater than was previously thought.

Scientists have found that three of the most popular artificial sweeteners, including sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal and Sugar Twin) and saccharin (Sweet’n Low, Necta Sweet and Sweet Twin) have a pathogenic effect on two types of gut bacteria.

Specifically, research using lab data was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, which demonstrated these common sweeteners can trigger beneficial bacteria to become pathogenic and potentially increase your risk of serious health conditions. This is the first study that demonstrated how two types of beneficial bacteria can become diseased and invade the gut wall.

The bacteria studied were Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Enterococcus faecalis (E. faecalis). As early as 2008, researchers found that sucralose lowered your gut bacteria count by at least 47.4% and increased the pH level of your intestines. Another study found that sucralose had a metabolic effect on bacteria and could inhibit the growth of certain species.

The current molecular research from Angelia Ruskin University found that when E. coli and E. faecalis became pathogenic, they killed Caco-2 cells that line the wall of the intestines. Much of the past research demonstrating a change in gut bacteria had used sucralose.

However, data from this study showed that a concentration from two cans of diet soft drinks, using any of the three artificial sweeteners, could significantly increase the ability of E. coli and E. faecalis to adhere to the Caco-2 cells and increase the development of bacterial biofilms.

When bacteria create a biofilm, it promotes the invasion of the intestinal cell wall. Biofilms make bacteria less sensitive to treatment and more likely to express virulence that causes disease. Each of the three sweeteners tested also triggered the bacteria to invade the Caco-2 cells, with one exception.

The researchers found that saccharin did not have a significant effect on E. coli invading the Caco-2 cells. Havovi Chichger, Ph.D., lead author and senior lecturer in Biomedical Science at Anglia Ruskin University, spoke about the results of the study in a press release:

“There is a lot of concern about the consumption of artificial sweeteners, with some studies showing that sweeteners can affect the layer of bacteria which support the gut, known as the gut microbiota.

Our study is the first to show that some of the sweeteners most commonly found in food and drink — saccharin, sucralose and aspartame — can make normal and ‘healthy’ gut bacteria become pathogenic. These pathogenic changes include greater formation of biofilms and increased adhesion and invasion of bacteria into human gut cells.

These changes could lead to our own gut bacteria invading and causing damage to our intestine, which can be linked to infection, sepsis and multiple-organ failure.”

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