by Lisa Keilhofer

Sweeteners do harm our gut microbiome

Replacing sugar with sweetener - how good is that for our microbiome?
Replacing sugar with sweetener - how good is that for our microbiome? Picture: © minoandriani –

It is for decades that the food industry is searching for an alternative to sugar. Sugar makes food tastier – because it resembles the consoling sweetness of mother’s milk, as one theory says. Also, most sweet fruits are edible, while bitter plants are often poisonous – a protective measure of the plant and a warning sign to its potential consumers. Product tests clearly show that the more sugar food contains the better we like it – from chocolate to tomato sauce. And who wants to miss that cheap (because subsidized) way to please the consumer’s preference and outperform competitors?

Alternative sweeteners as a compromise for the customer?

Of course, it is nothing new in both science and one’s personal experience that too much sugar does no good, so the consumer prefers products that are labelled „no sugar added“ (article recommendation: Immigration to the US fosters obesity and changes microbiome). Consequently, the food industry tried to supplement sugar with alternative sweeteners to meet the foodies sweet preferences without having to add „real“ sugar. However, it is and always has been controversial if they are harmless or not. A long time, artificial sweeteners counted as unhealthy and the products containing these leads an only marginal existence in the shelves of supermarkets. Then, a recently published >>> study by Lobach et. al. gave the all-clear: LoCarbNoCarb Sweeteners (LCNS) were described as harmless to the human gut microbiome and as safe at levels approved by regulatory agencies.

Both outcomes of the study are wrong

The revisiting of the study was not able to verify the outcomes. Both claims are wrong. Sweeteners do actually harm the gut microbiome and also in usual doses of consumption.

The >>> study examined a testing of 5 groups of 10 rats each (rats being declared compatible species to compare with the human gut microbiome by the United States Food and Drug Administration). The groups were given doses of 1,1mg; 3,3mg; 5,5mg and 11mg sucralose per kilo of bodyweight for a total of 12 weeks each. A comparison group was offered regular drinking water. The weekly collected fecal samples were analysed in regards to Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli, Bacteroides, Clostridia, total aerobes and anaerobes. A total of 4.200 measurements was taken. The results clearly showed a decrease in the previously mentioned gut bacteria along with further negative side effects of the animals.

LCNS cause long-term damage to gut microbiome

Even 12 weeks after the last sucralose treatment, the gut microbiome of the animals was not able to fully restore the previous diversity. Further testings could prove an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome (type 2 diabetes), and excessive weight gain by sucralose intake on the level of as moderate as one soft drink per day for an average weight person. Test persons showed a potentiated insulin-secretion along with a decreased insulin sensitivity. The result of the study ties up with the results of previous studies and proves the Lobach study wrong. Sucralose (being a token for all artificial sweeteners) clearly harms the gut microbiome. Possible reasons for the complete misjudgment of the Lobach study might lay in the financing of the study by Calorie Control Council, special-interest trade group funded by sweetener companies.

Sugar or sweeteners, what is better?

The insecure consumer now asks, which study is to be trusted and which not and if sugar or sweeteners are to be preferred. Well, it is indeed often hard to tell for the end consumer which study to trust, as sources of financing are often not communicated. And regarding the preference of sugar or sweeteners, the team from MyMicrobiome does not want to give any recommendations, because, of course, also sugar comes with negative effects. Our recommendation is therefore to steer clear of industrially processed foods, at all, to use fresh products for home-cooking, and train one’s sense of taste to not miss food containing sugar or alternative sweeteners.

Lisa Keilhofer
Lisa Keilhofer

Lisa Keilhofer studied at the University of Regensburg. She works in internationalization and as a freelance editor.

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