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Study finds artificial sweeteners alter healthy gut bacteria to be pathogenic

The new study is the first to show that some of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners have pathogenic effects on two types of gut bacteria, E. coli (Escherichia coli) and E. faecalis. At a concentration comparable to two cans of diet soda, all three enhanced the adherence of E. coli to intestinal Caco-2 cells and substantially increased the development of biofilms. The study was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

According to a new study, popular artificial sweeteners can cause previously healthy gut bacteria to become pathogenic and infiltrate the gut wall, creating severe health risks.

The research, which was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, is the first to show that some of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners—saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame—have pathogenic effects on two types of gut bacteria, E. coli (Escherichia coli) and E. faecalis.

Artificial sweeteners have been revealed in previous studies to alter the amount and kind of bacteria in the gut, but new molecular research headed by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has revealed that sweeteners can also make bacteria pathogenic. The researchers discovered that these pathogenic bacteria adhere to, infiltrate, and destroy Caco-2 cells, which are epithelial cells that line the intestine’s wall.

Bacteria that penetrate the intestinal wall, such as E. faecalis, can enter the bloodstream and concentrate in the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, producing a variety of illnesses, including septicaemia.

According to the new study, at a concentration comparable to two cans of diet soda, all three artificial sweeteners substantially enhanced the adherence of E. coli and E. faecalis to intestinal Caco-2 cells and substantially increased the development of biofilms.

Biofilm-forming bacteria are less resistant to antimicrobial treatment and are more likely to release toxins and express virulence factors, which are disease-causing chemicals. With the exception of saccharin, which showed no effect on E. coli invasion, all three sweeteners induced pathogenic gut bacteria to penetrate Caco-2 cells located in the intestinal wall.

Senior author of the paper Dr. Havovi Chichger, a Biomedical Science senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “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.”

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