Sweeteners can be harmful to the intestines, a study suggests.
Israeli scientists have provided new data on the effects of artificial sweeteners on intestinal bacteria and glucose metabolism in humans. This research may change the perception of two sweeteners, saccharin and sucralose, which are considered safe.
The impact of sweeteners on the intestinal flora: research by Israeli scientists
Israeli scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science have been studying the effects of artificial sweeteners on the microbiome for over a decade. In 2014, they published a study showing that artificial sweeteners can significantly affect the composition of their gut microbiome and indirectly change glucose metabolism. The results of the experiment were taken seriously, but with some reserve, as it was research on rodents, not humans.
A study involving humans has just come to light, published in the August 2022 issue of Cell magazine.
Sweeteners and the Gut Microbiome and Glucose Metabolism - 2022 Study
Over 1,300 volunteers were gathered for the study, but only 120 qualified due to their food diaries showing sweeteners on their menus. Most were rejected due to not being aware of it.
Division of volunteers into research and control groups
The group of people qualified for the study was divided into six subgroups :
- a control group that received no sweetener ;
- a control group given a sugar drink ;
- a research group that was given a drink with saccharin ,
- the research group, which was given a drink with sucralose ,
- a research group that was given a drink with stevia ,
- a research group that was given a drink with aspartame .
The study examined the metabolic response to glucose administration and the composition of the intestinal microbiota of participants who received a drink with a sweetener at a lower dose than recommended by the FDA and EFSA.
The results were clearly evident: in all groups receiving four different sweeteners, the microbe composition and the type of particles secreted into the blood changed. The microflora of those in the control groups remained unchanged.
In participants who consumed sweeteners, we identified significant changes in the composition and function of gut microbes and the particles they secrete into peripheral blood. This suggests that the gut microbes in the human body respond to the introduction of sweeteners.– comments Eran Elinav, one of the authors of the study.
The researchers noticed that some people who were introduced to saccharin and sucralose had impaired glucose metabolism and fared worse at processing and putting sugar into their cells. It is easy to identify those who react strongly to the sweetener (high-responders) and those who do not.
The finding that altered microbiota was closely related to impaired glucose metabolism is also significant. This implies that two individuals, such as those from the group where saccharin was tested, may have entirely different outcomes:
- Person X did not have a significant change in the composition of the microflora, nor did his glucose metabolism change.
- Person Y, who was also introduced to saccharin in the same doses, has already reacted with a change in the composition of microbes and, at the same time, an unfavorable change in glucose metabolism.
The response to sweeteners is an individual reaction, which does not apply to everyone. Correlation between drinking beverages with a sweetener and altered microflora and glucose metabolism is not yet causation, so the scientists moved the experiment to the laboratory.
The experiment used germ-free mice with "empty" microflora, which were transplanted with microbes from those who responded most strongly to the sweetener. This resulted in mice responding worse to the glucose tolerance test than those who did not respond.
The cited study provides valuable conclusions and premises, but is by no means conclusive . Sweeteners remain considered safe in doses determined by major authorities, but their impact on human health may be wider than currently believed.
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