Major new health risk over artificial sweeteners
Common artificial sweeteners used in diet drinks, chewing gum, low calorie yoghurts and many other foods may be speeding up the spread of antibiotic resistance, Queensland researchers warn.
Laboratory experiments by scientists at the University of Queensland's Advanced Water Management Centre found low calorie sweeteners promoted the transfer of antibiotic resistant genes between bacteria.
They tested aspartame, saccharine, sucralose and acesulfame potassium as part of an investigation into the interaction between artificial sweeteners and antibiotic resistance.
An estimated 117,000 tonnes of artificial sweeteners are consumed worldwide annually.
The UQ scientists found the sweeteners significantly accelerated the bacterial equivalent of sexual reproduction, a process known as conjugation, when two bacteria come into direct contact.
Scientist Jianhua Guo said: "The resistance genes are transferred from the donor to the recipient, and as a consequence, the recipient might become a multi-drug resistant strain of bacteria."
Associate Professor Guo said the team's findings highlighted the potential risk associated with the presence of artificial sweeteners in food and beverages.
The research involved Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas alloputida bacteria and is published in the ISME journal.
"As the environment and human gut system are reservoirs of various microbes, the emergence of non-nutritive sweeteners can be a driving force to shape these microbial communities," the scientists wrote in the journal article.
"Specifically, non-nutritive sweeteners might play a significant role in the dissemination of antibiotic resistant gene transfer in both the environment and clinical settings."
Antimicrobial resistance has become a major threat to public health globally.
An estimated 700,000 people die due to infections caused by resistant bacteria every year across the world.
Scientists fear up to 10 million people could be killed by infections due to antibiotic resistance by 2050 if immediate action is not taken.
Prof Guo said animal research was needed to test whether long-term use of artificial sweeteners was able to promote antimicrobial resistance in human urinary and gut systems.
"It is becoming clear that we need to be very careful in our use of these common products, as overuse can rapidly increase the problems brought on by antimicrobial resistance," he said.
The research was funded by the Australian Research Council.
Originally published as Major new health risk over artificial sweeteners