How Does Splenda Affect the Gut Microbiota?

“You should never assume. You know what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of you and me because that’s how it’s spelled.”

–Attributed to multiple individuals (but I heard this first when I watched Bad News Bears as a kid)

The increasing frequency of many conditions like inflammatory bowel disease cannot be explained by our genetics.  The search for environmental triggers are ongoing.  Broadly, the main suspects are dietary, antimicrobials, and pollutants. (Related blog post: Nutrition Week (Day 7) Connecting Epidemiology and Diet in Inflammatory Bowel Disease)

The latest concern is now Splenda:

“The Artificial Sweetener Splenda Promotes Gut Proteobacteria, Dysbiosis, and Myeloperoxidasse Reactivity in Crohn’s Disease-Like Ileitis” A Rodriguez-Palacios et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2018; 24: 1005-20.  Editorial 1055-6 by B Chassaing and AT Gewirtz.

This highly technical study involved research in ileitis-prone SAMP mice and includes a huge amount of data and cool figures.

The authors note in their discussion: “The term ‘Western diets’ implies a proven shift of the microbiota that enhances the susceptibility to adherent-invasive E coli infections and intestinal inflammation in mice.  In this study, we report similar findings due solely to the administration of a minor component of the diet.”

Some of the key points in the editorial:

  • IBD has multigenic influences and “results from a general breakdown in the normally mutually-beneficial relationship between the intestine and the complex microbial community it harbors.”
  • “New findings …that Splenda promotes microbiota dysbiosis in mice and exacerbates a hallmark of inflammation in ileitis-prone SAMP mice suggest that consumption of this synthetic sweetener may be a specific factor that contributes to development of IBD in persons genetically prone to this disorder.”
  • Splenda has two main components: sucralose (sweetener) and maltodextrin (filler)
  • Splenda did not “impact inflammatory markers in control mice, but rather increased such parameters in SAMP mice.”
  • Splenda changed the microbiota in both control mice and SAMP mice, “particularly enrichment of gamma Proteobacteria, which are broadly associated with gut inflammatory diseases.”
  • “Splenda may be relatively safe for the majority of the population but still represents a serious risk factor for those prone to developing IBD or other chronic inflammatory diseases.”
  • Substances like sucralose which are primarily excreted in the feces (nonabsorbed) have generally been viewed as harmless.  “Appreciation of the pivotal role of the microbiota in health questions the latter assumption.”

My take: I think the influences on the microbiota are difficult to tease out.  Thus, this study (in mice) indicates —don’t assume that nonabsorbed agents are harmless

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