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A new study published by Israeli scientists together with researchers in Singapore may put a serious dent into the market for artificial sweeteners.

FDA-approved artificial sweeteners and sport supplements were found to be toxic to digestive gut microbes, according to a new paper published in Molecules by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

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The collaborative study indicated relative toxicity of six artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k) and 10 sport supplements containing these same artificial sweeteners. The bacteria found in the digestive system (e.g. E. coli) had a toxic response when exposed to concentrations of only one mg./ml. of the artificial sweeteners.

“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 Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, John A. Ungar Chair in Biotechnology at the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering, a member of the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology and the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev. “This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity which can cause a wide range of health issues.”

Artificial sweeteners are used in countless food products and soft drinks with reduced sugar content. Many people consume this added ingredient without their knowledge. Moreover, artificial sweeteners have been identified as emerging environmental pollutants, and can be found in drinking and surface water, and groundwater aquifers.

“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. Furthermore, the tested bioluminescent bacterial panel can potentially be used for detecting artificial sweeteners in the environment,” says Prof. Kushmaro.

This study was supported by the National Research Foundation of Singapore under the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) and the Singapore-HUJ Alliance for Research and Enterprise (SHARE), The Institute for Sport Research and the Singapore International Graduate Award. Additional researchers who participated in the study from Ben-Gurion University are Dorin Harpaz, Ph.D. student, and Prof. Robert S. Marks.

Other researchers include Trish H. P. Koon, Alfred I. Y. Tok, Loo Pin Yeo, Francesca Cecchini, and Evgeni Eltzov. “Measuring Artificial Sweeteners Toxicity Using a Bioluminescent Bacterial Panel.” Molecules 2018, 23 (10), 2454doi.org/10.3390/molecules23102454.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.