How do artificial sweeteners alter gut bacteria in humans? Expert response
Changes in gut microbiota composition caused by artificial sweeteners may have metabolic effects
While generally considered safe to consume, research has shown that artificial sweeteners can have an impact on gut bacteria in humans.
Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes used in a wide range of foods and beverages as a low- or no-calorie alternative to sugar. While generally considered safe to consume, research has shown that artificial sweeteners can have an impact on gut bacteria, also known as gut microbiota, in humans.
Dr Richa Chaturvedi, Senior Consultant Endocrinology, Apollo 24|7 and Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, says: “Artificial sweeteners have been shown to have an effect on the composition and function of gut flora. According to research, sweets such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose can alter the gut microbiota, causing an imbalance in the variety and number of beneficial bacteria. This alteration can have an impact on a variety of metabolic processes and can lead to diseases such as obesity, glucose intolerance and altered satiety responses. While the specific processes are still being investigated, it is critical to assess the potential influence of artificial sweeteners on gut health and general well-being, particularly for people with underlying metabolic disorders.”
Research suggests that consumption of artificial sweeteners may cause changes in the abundance and diversity of gut bacteria. Some studies have shown an increase in certain bacteria, such as Bacteroides and Proteobacteria, while others have seen a decrease in beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacteria. Changes in gut microbiota composition caused by artificial sweeteners may have metabolic effects.
By: Ankita Ghoshal Bisht, Dietitian, Primus Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi, says, “According to research, artificial sweeteners can turn healthy gut bacteria into pathogens and thus affect gut health. A study shows that sweeteners increase the ability of bacteria to form a biofilm. Bacteria growing in biofilms are less sensitive to antimicrobial resistance treatment. They are also more likely to secrete toxins and express disease-causing molecules. There are two types of gut bacteria present in all gut microbiota. They are E. coli and E. faecalis. When exposed to artificial sweeteners, these gut bacteria have a greater ability to be pathogenic (cause disease).”
It is important to note that the effects of artificial sweeteners on gut bacteria can vary between individuals. Factors such as genetics, diet, and baseline gut microbiota composition can influence how different people respond to these sweeteners.
Although artificial sweeteners are generally considered safe to consume, they can influence the composition and function of the gut microbiota in humans. More research is needed to fully understand the extent of these effects and their implications for human health.