If you think Diet Coke is a lesser evil choice compared to the regular one, then you might have to think again. A new study published in the journal Molecules revealed that artificial sweeteners, like aspartame found in Coke, can be toxic to the gut bacteria.
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore found that sugar substitutes hamper the growth of bacteria living in our guts.
The study used genetically modified E.coli to test common sugar substitutes available like aspartame, sucralose, saccharine and three others — all of which were approved safe by the US Food and Drug Administration. The sample was designed to contain fluorescent compounds that glow, should there be toxins detected.
After dosing hundreds of times, the researchers found out that artificial sweeteners had a stressing effect on the gut bacteria and it thwarts its ability to grow and reproduce.
“My recommendation is to not use artificial sweeteners,” researcher Ariel Kushmaro from Nanyang Technological University told Business Insider.
Although Kushmaro and his colleagues found that sugar substitutes intoxicate gut bacteria, they recommend further studies since they are uncertain how it ultimately affect humans.
“We are not claiming that it’s toxic to human beings, we’re claiming that it might be toxic to the gut bacteria, and by that, will influence us.”
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The human microbiome, which houses different bacteria in our guts, is said to be the key to overall health. Each one of us has different variations of the microbiome, which explains why people react differently to a specific food or drink. The gut bacteria also affect our immune system as it teaches what pathogens should be tolerated or not.
Researchers have long tried to find out the side effects of sugar substitutes and currently, over 200,000 research has been conducted to analyze its consequence to human health. Aside from its negative effect on gut bacteria, it is known that artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of cancer.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, previous research found that sugar substitutes can cause brain tumors and bladder cancer. Artificial sweeteners also increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure.
While artificial sweeteners are frequently marketed as zero-calorie substitutes, it doesn’t help in controlling weight gain, and can, in fact, have an inverse effect. Artificial sweeteners are found out to trick the brain that we are not satisfied, hence driving us more to consume regular sugar.