Research from 2021 shows that some common artificial sweeteners can cause healthy gut bacteria to change into pathogenic forms that can invade the intestine and potentially lead to serious health issues.
Previous research has shown that these sweeteners - including saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose - alter the number and type of bacteria in the gut. This new study from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences demonstrates how these sweeteners cause pathogenic changes on 2 specific gut bacteria, E. faecalis (Enterococcus faecalis) and E. coli (Enterococcus coli). Specifically, the artificial sweeteners lead to alterations in the bacteria that allow them to attach to and subsequently invade and kill epithelial cells that line the intestinal wall.
This new study revealed that all 3 of these sweeteners can significantly increase the adhesion of the 2 types of bacteria to the gut lining, and also increased the formation of biofilms. When bacteria grow in a biofilm, they become more resistant to treatment and become more likely to secrete toxins and express certain molecules that can lead to disease states. As these pathogenic bacteria invade the intestinal wall, they can then get into the bloodstream and lead to infection in lymph nodes, the spleen, the liver, sepsis, and even multi-organ failure.
This study showed that this effect can occur with the equivalent of two cans of diet soft drink. That's it, that's all it takes to cause this change in the gut microbiome! And disruptions of intestinal bacteria and the intestinal wall can result in "leaky gut syndrome", often characterized by bloating, cramping, intestinal gas, loose stools, and pain. In addition, this syndrome seems to be associated with a multitude of other issues, including GI problems (irritable bowel, Crohn's, celiac disease), a diminished immune system, troubles with absorption of minerals and vitamins, auto-immune illnesses, and gut-brain issues, and wide-spread inflammation.
Here are some common drinks and foods that contain the artificial sweeteners in question:
Saccharin - in "diet" and "sugar-free" soft drinks and in "low calorie" or "diet" processed foods (such as canned fruit in "light" syrup, baked goods/sweets, jams/jellies, flavored syrups, salad dressings, and chewing gum).
Aspartame - in "diet" soda and fruit juices, also in "sugar-free" ice cream, gelatin, chewing gum, sugarless candy, breakfast cereal, and yogurt.
Sucralose - found in "sugar-free" baked goods, beverages, chewing gum, gelatin, sweetened condiments (maple syrup alternatives, salad dressings, BBQ sauces, flavored syrups, fruit spreads/jams), and frozen dairy desserts.
The key is to avoid these sweeteners as they have been shown to be detrimental to your health. Read the ingredients on all products you buy and seek natural alternatives whenever possible. In addition, it may be necessary to work on some therapeutic options to restore proper gut health. That is a deeper topic in and of itself - if you have questions, reach out and we can set up an appointment to discuss.