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Artificial sweeteners may harm your gut health

Earlier this year, we explained how poor gut health can be one underlying factor that contributes to the epidemic of obesity plaguing our country.

So, you start on the right track by getting the right amount of exercise and sleep, cutting down on fatty foods, and switching from products containing real sugar to those made with non-caloric artificial sweeteners (to liven up that early morning infusion of java).

Unfortunately, those artificial sweeteners—specifically sucralose (sold in America as Splenda), aspartame (Nutrasweet and Equal) and saccharine (Necta Sweet or Sweet‘N Low)—may have the opposite effect, according to research published in the journal Nature.

Scientists from the Weizman Institute of Science’s Department of Immunology (Israel) made the discovery after feeding 10-week-old mice one of several diets (normal or high-fat) and water laced with one of the artificial sweeteners mirroring amounts sanctioned by the FDA, plain water or water mixed with glucose.

Eleven weeks later, the test animals exhibited signs of glucose intolerance, an indicator signaling several metabolic conditions including adult-onset diabetes or metabolic syndrome. What’s more, repeating the same test with different mice and different amounts of artificial sweeteners produced the very same results.

How test animals react to artificial sweeteners

Then, researchers tested a theory that the gut’s reaction to artificial sweeteners may be triggering glucose intolerance, because our bodies don’t recognize the sugar as food, using only saccharin. Interestingly, they found saccharin isn’t absorbed by the gut but does have contact with the gut bacteria in mice, which triggers glucose intolerance.

Other signs that gut bacteria was affected by artificial sweeteners:

  • Treating the mice with antibiotics reversed the process completely.
  • Transferring the microbiota of mice harmed by artificial sweeteners to sterile mice conferred the same results to the new animals.
  • DNA sequencing revealed contact with saccharin affected the diversity of gut bacteria.
  • Even placing the affected gut microbiota outside the bodies of sterile mice along with artificial sweeteners was enough to induce glucose intolerance.

How YOUR gut reacts to artificial sweeteners

Lastly, researchers at the Weisman Institute turned to data collected from The Personalized Nutrition Project, the largest human trial to study the connections between the human gut microbiota and nutrition.

Based just on the reporting of some 400 people (at this time only from Israel) participating in the project, scientists discovered a significant connection between their gut bacteria, self-reported consumption of artificial sweeteners and clinical signs of glucose intolerance.

Finally, scientists recruited seven fit and health volunteers who didn’t use artificial sweeteners to incorporate the maximum daily amount of it in their diets for seven days. The gut health of four patients changed to a balance associated with the propensity for metabolic diseases, while the remaining three weren’t affected at all.

Why were some volunteers affected, but others weren’t? Specific bacteria in the guts of those who developed glucose intolerance reacted to the fake sugar by secreting substances that triggered an inflammatory response similar to sugar overdose, thus promoting changes in the body’s ability to metabolize sugar, said Dr. Eran Elinav.

Even more compelling: Treating mice with gut bacteria of volunteers whose gut bacteria developed glucose intolerance triggered the same result.

Taking a probiotic protects your gut

“Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us,” said Dr. Elinav in a press release. “Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners—through the bacteria in our guts—to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.”

Because the effect of artificial sweeteners wasn’t universal, it’s possible that probiotics could be used to shift gut bacteria in order to reverse the damage done by glucose intolerance, said Dr. Eran Segal, Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at the Weizman Institute to the New York Times.

Because your gut bacteria can change very quickly based on the good and bad foods you eat, it’s more important than ever to take a probiotic, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic or EndoMune Advanced Junior (for kids), containing multiple strains of beneficial bacteria for your good gut health.

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