More on the Biome Evils of Artificial Sweeteners


I have so few guilty pleasures, what with calorie counts and nutrition information on everything.  As much as I am pining to finally taste a mocha frappacino at Starbucks, as soon as I see that 400+ calorie count, I just can’t bring myself to buy one.  I’ve reduced my “junk” food eating to the occasional piece of dark chocolate – which really doesn’t count because it’s chock full of antioxidants – ice cream, and the very occasional diet Coke.  Well, after reading today’s paper[i], I think the latter will just have to go the way of donuts, sour gummy worms and milkshakes.   Another one bites the dust.

I’ve written before about the evils of artificial sweeteners, and because of all the accumulating research, I’d reduced my diet soda drinking to maybe 4 times a month. (See two examples here and here.) After all, we know that these sweeteners can both change the microbiome as well as reduce diversity:  “Recent studies have indicated considerable health risks which links the consumption of AS with metabolic derangements and gut microbiota perturbations.”  This article lays out the results of many studies which show that, shockingly, artificial sweeteners do the exact opposite of what common sense would have you believe they do:  they do not reduce glucose levels or help avoid metabolic diseases.  Because they so disrupt the gut biome, studies have, for example, confirmed that in humans, after 4 days of aspartame in the diet, “…a significant difference in microbial diversity was observed.” Other researchers have shown that “…numerous pro-inflammatory mediators were potentially produced by gut bacteria following the consumption of sweeteners in the diet, which is associated with other metabolic disease conditions like diabetes and obesity.”  The scary thing is that these sweeteners are not only consumed voluntarily:  they have also been found in wastewater, surface water, groundwater, and drinking water systems.

Worse still:   today’s paper, new research  just published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, shows that saccharin, sucralose and aspartame actually make two kinds of bacteria, Escherichia coli (E.coli) and E.faecalis (Enterococcus faecalis) more pathogenic.  Upon exposure to artificial sweeteners, these pathogenic bacteria can  attach themselves to, invade and ultimately kill epithelial cells that line the walls of the intestines. At a concentration equivalent to only two cans of diet soda, all 3 sweeteners measurably increased the adhesion of these two species to epithelial cells, as well as increased the formation of biofilms.  As you know from my previous posts on the topic (see here as one example), biofilms – like the plaque on teeth – can protect pathogenic bacteria (and yeasts, etc.) from antimicrobial treatments:  “Findings show that sweeteners deferentially increase the ability of bacteria to form a biofilm. Co-culture with human intestinal epithelial cells shows an increase in the ability of model gut bacteria to adhere to, invade and kill the host epithelium.”

The inflammation caused by the artificial sweeteners causes increased permeability of the gut lining, leading to leaky gut.  E. faecalis can actually cross the intestinal wall and get into the blood stream, causing infections in multiple organs (it can get into the lymph system including the spleen – and into the liver), and can cause septicaemia.

The senior author of the paper summed up the paper as follows:

“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.  We know that overconsumption of sugar is a major factor in the development of conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Therefore, it is important that we increase our knowledge of sweeteners versus sugars in the diet to better understand the impact on our health.”[ii]

Holy cow.  How can I drink another diet soda after reading that?!


[i] Aparna Shil et al, Artificial Sweeteners Negatively Regulate Pathogenic Characteristics of Two Model Gut Bacteria, E. coli and E. faecalis, International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2021). DOI: 10.3390/ijms22105228


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: