Low/no calorie sweeteners do not adversely affect gut bacteria

ISA statement in response to in-vitro study by Shil et al.

Brussels, 24th June 2021: Responding to an in-vitro study by Shil et al.1 on low/no calorie sweetener and gut bacteria, the International Sweeteners Association (ISA) points to the scientific opinions of regulatory authorities worldwide which have repeatedly confirmed the safety of all approved low/no calorie sweeteners.

Before approving a low/no calorie sweeteners for use on the market, food safety authorities such as the Joint Expert Scientific Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)2 of the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and of the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)3 and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)4, thoroughly review all the available scientific evidence, including about any effect on the gut functioning. Current evidence show no adverse effect of low/no calorie sweeteners on gut microbiota.5

The in-vitro study design limits the relevance of any findings by Shil et al. to humans, as such studies cannot reproduce the whole, complex, interactive system that is present in humans or animals. For example, in the current experiment, isolated bacteria were exposed for two consecutive days to high concentrations of low/no calorie sweeteners out of the human body. This study design ignores the well documented pathways of the different sweeteners’ metabolism in the gut and the time and amount of sweeteners that reach the gut microbiome. Therefore, these results cannot be predictive of what would happen in real-life use of low/no calorie sweeteners.

At a time when obesity and non-communicable diseases including diabetes and dental diseases remain major global health challenges, and in light of current public health recommendations to reduce overall sugar intake, low/no calorie sweeteners can be helpful in creating healthier food environments. They provide a wide choice of sweet-tasting options with low or no calories, and thus can be a useful tool, when used in place of sugar and as part of a balanced diet, in helping reduce overall sugar and calorie intake, as well as in managing blood glucose levels.6 Low/no calorie sweeteners are also not fermentable by oral bacteria, which means that they do not contribute to tooth demineralisation, which is one of the reasons for tooth decay.6

  1. Shil A and Chichger H. Artificial Sweeteners Negatively Regulate Pathogenic Characteristics of Two Model Gut Bacteria, E. coli and E. Faecalis. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2021, 22(10), 5228; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22105228
  2. http://www.fao.org/food/food-safety-quality/scientific-advice/jecfa/en/
  3. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/sweeteners
  4. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/high-intensity-sweeteners
  5. Lobach A, Roberts A, Rowland I. Assessing the in vivo data on low/no-calorie sweeteners and the gut microbiota. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2019; 124: 385-399
  6. EFSA Scientific opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to intense sweeteners. EFSA 2011 Journal 9(6): 2229, and 9(4): 2076 and Commission Regulation 432/2012/EU (OJ L 136 25.5.2012, p. 1): http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2012:136:0001:0040:en:PDF