May 28, 2024

A sweetener used in cakes, soft drinks and chewing gum can seriously damage people’s health by weakening the intestines, a new study found

Consuming even a small amount of the sweetener neotame can lead to someone suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, insulin resistance and even sepsis, a condition that kills around 40,000 in Britain a year.

The findings underscored that some of a new generation of sweeteners that give food products a super-sweet taste may have a “toxic effect” on health, the researchers said.

Dr. Havovi Chichger, the senior author of the study, said that while sweeteners may be a healthier alternative to sugar, they may harm some consumers.

Neotame was developed in 2002 as a replacement for aspartame, a sweetener of concern, and in recent years has become widely used in drinks and foods sold in the UK. It is often referred to as E961 on the list of ingredients found on product labels.

Chichger, an associate professor at Anglia Ruskin University, and the study’s co-author, Dr Aparna Shil, of Jahangirnagar University, in Bangladesh, said neotame poses a health threat because it can damage the intestines by ” “good bacteria” to get sick and invade the intestinal wall. In the process, this can lead to disease because the epithelial barrier, part of the intestinal wall, can break down.

They published their findings, which they say are the first to show that neotame can have that harmful impact on healthy gut bacteria, in the medical journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

Previous research, including by Chichger, has found that other common sweeteners – such as saccharin, sucralose and aspartame – can also have that harmful effect.

Chichger said: “There is now a growing awareness of the health impact of sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose and aspartame, with our own previous work showing the problems they can cause on the gut wall and the damage to the ‘good bacteria’ ‘ which it can show forms in our bowels.

“This can lead to a range of potential health issues, including diarrhoea, intestinal inflammation, and even infections such as septicemia if the bacteria were to enter the bloodstream. That’s why it’s important to also study sweeteners that have been introduced more recently, and our new research shows that neotame causes similar problems, including gut bacteria getting sick.”

The co-authors said further research is needed to look at “the toxic effects of some of the more recently developed artificial sweeteners”, given their widespread use. Some of the latest sweeteners in use produce a sweet taste that is 1,000 times sweeter than sugar.

Even a low intake of neotame can be harmful, Chichger stressed. “Even when we studied neotame at very low concentrations, 10 times lower than the acceptable daily intake, we saw the breakdown of the intestinal barrier and a shift in bacteria to a more harmful behavior, including increased invasion of healthy intestinal cells leading to cell death. This can be linked to issues such as irritable bowel disease and sepsis,” she said.

The European Food Standards Agency ruled in 2010 that neotame is “safe for us”. It has since been approved for use in more than 35 countries. But Efsa is now reviewing the safety of neotame as part of what Chichger said was a series of evidence-based risk assessments that could lead to a reassessment of certain sweeteners.

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