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Concept: Aspartame


Artificial sweeteners have been widely used in the modern diet, and their observed effects on human health have been inconsistent, with both beneficial and adverse outcomes reported. Obesity and type 2 diabetes have dramatically increased in the U.S. and other countries over the last two decades. Numerous studies have indicated an important role of the gut microbiome in body weight control and glucose metabolism and regulation. Interestingly, the artificial sweetener saccharin could alter gut microbiota and induce glucose intolerance, raising questions about the contribution of artificial sweeteners to the global epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Acesulfame-potassium (Ace-K), a FDA-approved artificial sweetener, is commonly used, but its toxicity data reported to date are considered inadequate. In particular, the functional impact of Ace-K on the gut microbiome is largely unknown. In this study, we explored the effects of Ace-K on the gut microbiome and the changes in fecal metabolic profiles using 16S rRNA sequencing and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) metabolomics. We found that Ace-K consumption perturbed the gut microbiome of CD-1 mice after a 4-week treatment. The observed body weight gain, shifts in the gut bacterial community composition, enrichment of functional bacterial genes related to energy metabolism, and fecal metabolomic changes were highly gender-specific, with differential effects observed for males and females. In particular, ace-K increased body weight gain of male but not female mice. Collectively, our results may provide a novel understanding of the interaction between artificial sweeteners and the gut microbiome, as well as the potential role of this interaction in the development of obesity and the associated chronic inflammation.

Concepts: Gut flora, Metabolism, Nutrition, Insulin, Obesity, Aspartame, Sweeteners, Sucralose


It has been suggested that the use of nonnutritive sweeteners (NNSs) can lead to weight gain, but evidence regarding their real effect in body weight and satiety is still inconclusive. Using a rat model, the present study compares the effect of saccharin and aspartame to sucrose in body weight gain and in caloric intake. Twenty-nine male Wistar rats received plain yogurt sweetened with 20% sucrose, 0.3% sodium saccharin or 0.4% aspartame, in addition to chow and water ad libitum, while physical activity was restrained. Measurements of cumulative body weight gain, total caloric intake, caloric intake of chow and caloric intake of sweetened yogurt were performed weekly for 12weeks. Results showed that addition of either saccharin or aspartame to yogurt resulted in increased weight gain compared to addition of sucrose, however total caloric intake was similar among groups. In conclusion, greater weight gain was promoted by the use of saccharin or aspartame, compared with sucrose, and this weight gain was unrelated to caloric intake. We speculate that a decrease in energy expenditure or increase in fluid retention might be involved.

Concepts: Real number, E number, Aspartame, Sweeteners, Ad libitum, Sucralose, Saccharin, Equal


Despite safety reports of the artificial sweetener aspartame, health-related concerns remain.

Concepts: Aspartame, Sweeteners


Artificial sweeteners are gaining acceptance as tracers of human wastewater in the environment. The 3 artificial sweeteners analyzed in this study were detected in leachate or leachate-impacted groundwater at levels comparable to those of untreated wastewater at 14 of 15 municipal landfill sites tested, including several closed for >50 years. Saccharin was the dominant sweetener in old (pre-1990) landfills, while newer landfills were dominated by saccharin and acesulfame (introduced 2 decades ago; dominant in wastewater). Cyclamate was also detected, but less frequently. A case study at one site illustrates the use of artificial sweeteners to identify a landfill-impacted groundwater plume discharging to a stream. The study results suggest that artificial sweeteners can be useful tracers for current and legacy landfill contamination, with relative abundances of the sweeteners potentially providing diagnostic ability to distinguish different landfills or landfill cells, including crude age-dating, and to distinguish landfill and wastewater sources.

Concepts: Groundwater, Anaerobic digestion, Leachate, Landfill, Land reclamation, Aspartame, Sweeteners, Sucralose


Despite its widespread use, the artificial sweetener aspartame remains one of the most controversial food additives, due to mixed evidence on its neurobehavioral effects. Healthy adults who consumed a study-prepared high-aspartame diet (25 mg/kg body weight/day) for 8 days and a low-aspartame diet (10 mg/kg body weight/day) for 8 days, with a 2-week washout between the diets, were examined for within-subject differences in cognition, depression, mood, and headache. Measures included weight of foods consumed containing aspartame, mood and depression scales, and cognitive tests for working memory and spatial orientation. When consuming high-aspartame diets, participants had more irritable mood, exhibited more depression, and performed worse on spatial orientation tests. Aspartame consumption did not influence working memory. Given that the higher intake level tested here was well below the maximum acceptable daily intake level of 40-50 mg/kg body weight/day, careful consideration is warranted when consuming food products that may affect neurobehavioral health. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Psychology, Nutrition, Cognitive psychology, Food, Vinegar, Food additive, Aspartame, Sweetener


Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an inborn error of metabolism associated with high blood levels of phenylalanine (Phe). A Phe-restricted diet supplemented with L-amino acids is the main treatment strategy for this disease; if started early, most neurological abnormalities can be prevented. The healthy human gut contains trillions of commensal bacteria, often referred to as the gut microbiota. The composition of the gut microbiota is known to be modulated by environmental factors, including diet. In this study, we compared the gut microbiota of 8 PKU patients on Phe-restricted dietary treatment with that of 10 healthy individuals. The microbiota were characterized by 16S rRNA sequencing using the Ion Torrent™ platform. The most dominant phyla detected in both groups were Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. PKU patients showed reduced abundance of the Clostridiaceae, Erysipelotrichaceae, and Lachnospiraceae families, Clostridiales class, Coprococcus, Dorea, Lachnospira, Odoribacter, Ruminococcus and Veillonella genera, and enrichment of Prevotella, Akkermansia, and Peptostreptococcaceae. Microbial function prediction suggested significant differences in starch/glucose and amino acid metabolism between PKU patients and controls. Together, our results suggest the presence of distinct taxonomic groups within the gut microbiome of PKU patients, which may be modulated by their plasma Phe concentration. Whether our findings represent an effect of the disease itself, or a consequence of the modified diet is unclear.

Concepts: Bacteria, Gut flora, Amino acid, Nutrition, Phenylketonuria, Phenylalanine, Aspartame, Clostridia


Nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS), including saccharin, sucralose, aspartame, and acesulfame-potassium, are commonly consumed in the general population, and all except for saccharin are considered safe for use during pregnancy and lactation. Sucralose (Splenda) currently holds the majority of the NNS market share and is often combined with acesulfame-potassium in a wide variety of foods and beverages. To date, saccharin is the only NNS reported to be found in human breast milk after maternal consumption, while there is no apparent information on the other NNS. Breast milk samples were collected from 20 lactating volunteers, irrespective of their habitual NNS intake. Saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame-potassium were present in 65% of participants' milk samples, whereas aspartame was not detected. These data indicate that NNS are frequently ingested by nursing infants, and thus prospective clinical studies are necessary to determine whether early NNS exposure via breast milk may have clinical implications.

Concepts: Milk, Breastfeeding, Lactation, Breast, Breast milk, Aspartame, Sweeteners, Sucralose


Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an autosomal recessive inborn error of phenylalanine metabolism caused by deficiency in the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase that converts phenylalanine into tyrosine. If left untreated, PKU results in increased phenylalanine concentrations in blood and brain, which cause severe intellectual disability, epilepsy and behavioural problems. PKU management differs widely across Europe and therefore these guidelines have been developed aiming to optimize and standardize PKU care. Professionals from 10 different European countries developed the guidelines according to the AGREE (Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation) method. Literature search, critical appraisal and evidence grading were conducted according to the SIGN (Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network) method. The Delphi-method was used when there was no or little evidence available. External consultants reviewed the guidelines. Using these methods 70 statements were formulated based on the highest quality evidence available. The level of evidence of most recommendations is C or D. Although study designs and patient numbers are sub-optimal, many statements are convincing, important and relevant. In addition, knowledge gaps are identified which require further research in order to direct better care for the future.

Concepts: Allele, Amino acid, Enzyme, Phenylketonuria, Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Aspartame, Phenylalanine hydroxylase


With continued efforts to find solutions to rising rates of obesity and diabetes, there is increased interest in the potential health benefits of the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners (LNCSs). Concerns about safety often deter the use of LNCSs as a tool in helping control caloric intake, even though the safety of LNCS use has been affirmed by regulatory agencies worldwide. In many cases, an understanding of the biological fate of the different LNSCs can help health professionals to address safety concerns. The objectives of this review are to compare the similarities and differences in the chemistry, regulatory status, and biological fate (including absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion) of the commonly used LNCSs: acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin, stevia leaf extract (steviol glycoside), and sucralose. Understanding the biological fate of the different LNCSs is helpful in evaluating whether reports of biological effects in animal studies or in humans are indicative of possible safety concerns. Illustrations of the usefulness of this information to address questions about LNCSs include discussion of systemic exposure to LNCSs, the use of sweetener combinations, and the potential for effects of LNCSs on the gut microflora.

Concepts: Nutrition, E number, Aspartame, Sweeteners, Stevia, Sugar substitute, Sucralose, Acesulfame potassium


Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an autosomal recessive disease caused by deficient activity of phenylalanine hydroxylase. A low phenylalanine (Phe) diet is used to treat PKU. The diet is very restrictive, and dietary adherence tends to decrease as patients get older. Methods to improve dietary adherence and blood Phe control are continuously under investigation.

Concepts: Protein, Allele, Amino acid, Nutrition, Enzyme, Phenylketonuria, Phenylalanine, Aspartame