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Sweeteners: Solution or risk to our health?

Artificial sweeteners have been used for decades as sugar substitutes in countless processed foods to persuade us to eat fearlessly "forbidden" foods such as soft drinks or sweets. But is it safe for our health? New research sheds more light on answering the question.

The news comes from America where the FDA, i.e. the US Food and Drug Administration, decided to ban the use of 6 artificial sweeteners from food. These are benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, ethyl methyl ether, myrcene, the so-called mint terpene, and pyridine. The controversy over sweeteners began as soon as they are used to giving the so-called low-calorie foods, a thriving food industry that promises that everyone can eat and drink everything thanks to the absence of sugar. Are artificial sweeteners safe for our health? Current research indicates that many of the FDA-approved artificial sweeteners are finally toxic to intestinal bacteria and therefore they can harm us. The research even refers to the possibility of the occurrence of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

What does the new research show?

The study, published in the journal Molecules by researchers from the Ben-Gurion University in Israel and Nanyang University of Technology in Singapore, found that FDA-approved artificial sweeteners and sports supplements are toxic to the gut microbiome. Specifically, the research examined 6 sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, advantame, neotame, and acesulfame) - all well known and widely used in foods and beverages - and 10 supplements for athletes that contain these sweeteners. According to the research, bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract became toxic after their exposure to just a few micrograms of these sweeteners.

"We modified the naturally occurring bioluminescent bacterium E. coli to fluoresces when it detects toxic agents and acts as a sensor that represents the complex microbial system", said Ariel Kushmaro, Professor of Biotechnology at the “Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren” Department of Biotechnological Engineering and a member of the National Institute of Biotechnology and the Ilse Katz Institute of Nanotechnology in the Negev. The exposure of the bacterium to certain amounts of sweeteners caused luminescence (i.e. chemical reaction). The stronger reaction was caused by saccharin, the oldest sweetener in use. According to the research, it is important to know which foods contain which sweeteners because many foods contain sweeteners without our knowledge. Also, we should understand that they can cause a wide range of health problems. In addition, the quantities of sweeteners must be very specific and strict. According to research, our diet has a direct effect on the microbiome of the whole body, which not only plays a role in our physiology but can reduce our tendency in many pathological conditions. In addition, our microbiome functions as a test tube in which the effects of our dietary choices on our health are tested. In this way, sweeteners cause chemical reactions in the intestinal microbiome that affect our health.

Professor Kushmaro highlights that "the results of the research can help not only to understand the toxicity of sweeteners but also their potential negative effects on the environment" since sweeteners are considered to be harmful to the environment. In fact, the use of bioluminescent bacteria will be able to detect sweeteners in the environment.

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