Prefer diet sodas instead of regular? Sure, they're great for cutting down on calories—but it'd be a good idea to reconsider that choice. A study in the scientific journal Molecules revealed how terrible non-caloric artificial sweeteners are for your health.
According to the study, which was conducted collaboratively by researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharine mess with your digestive tract and metabolism. They are literally toxic for your gut microbes.
Researchers examined the effects of six FDA-approved artificial sweeteners: aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k, as well as 10 sports supplements containing these sweeteners.
Aspartame is commonly used in diet sodas like Coke Zero Sugar, Fanta Zero, and Minute Maid Light, and diet Coke contains sucralose and acesulfame potassium, according to the Coca-Cola Co. website.
Scientists genetically modified E. coli bacteria, which is a "good" bacteria naturally found in small amounts in the gut, to luminesce when exposed to toxins. Then they introduced the sweeteners to the modified E. coli.
I'm not going to sugar-coat the unfortunate findings of the study (Get it?): The researchers discovered that gut bacteria had a toxic response when exposed to the sweeteners in concentrations as little as 1 milligram per milliliter. Obviously, a toxic response in the digestive tract is never a good thing.
Plus, I'd just like to emphasize that the word "toxic" should never be used to describe the state of your intestines. Ready to give up diet soda yet?
“We modified bioluminescent E. coli bacteria, which luminesce when they detect toxicants and act as a sensing model representative of the complex microbial system," says head researcher Dr. Ariel Kushmaro.
"This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity which can cause a wide range of health issues."
In case clarification is needed, the gut microbiome is full of good bacteria, also known as gut flora or gut microbiota. These are bacteria that you want in your gut, because they help support your immune system, metabolize otherwise indigestible compounds in food which is necessary for the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and keep your brain chemistry stable.
When the gut microbiota is compromised, it can't do its job and that can lead to chronic and debilitating health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, liver disease, and autoimmune diseases like diabetes, among others.
“The results of this study might help in understanding the relative toxicity of artificial sweeteners and the potential of negative effects on the gut microbial community as well as the environment," Kushmaro says. "Furthermore, the tested bioluminescent bacterial panel can potentially be used for detecting artificial sweeteners in the environment.”
Long story short, it's not worth it to consume artificial sweeteners. Ever. Plain and simple.