Artificial sweeteners, my arse

5 minute read

Some sugar replacements are nastier than others.

I can’t eat sugar any more. It wasn’t so much a lifestyle choice as a consequence of bariatric surgery.

One of the less charming realities of life post-gastric bypass is a lovely little thing called “dumping syndrome”. This is where food, particularly food that is high in sugar, moves too quickly from your stomach into your small intestine.

It can give you early symptoms, 10-30 minutes after eating, like cramps and diarrhoea. It can give you late symptoms, one to three hours after eating, like heart palpitations, dizziness, flushing, cramps, vomiting, and the ubiquitous diarrhoea.

Some lucky people, like me, get both. And it’s not something that necessarily happens as soon as you have the surgery. It can develop over time, sometimes years after surgery. With me it took about a year to develop.

I was forewarned, so I pretty much stopped eating sugar as soon as I’d had the surgery. The result was all good – my type 2 diabetes disappeared, never to return, about a month after I went under the knife.

Sadly, the one thing that hasn’t disappeared is my love for things like ice cream, chocolate and a good old crunchy sweet biscuit. And as time goes on, you get braver and less careful as your new anatomy settles in, and you end up trying stuff because, who knows, the surgeon could have been lying, am I right?

And so you discover dumping syndrome at the same time as you rediscover how bloody yummy ice cream, chocolate and sweet biscuits are.

And that, dear reader, leaves you in the not so tender care of … *drum roll* … sweeteners.

I have no beef with stevia. In fact, God bless it. It’s natural, so at least you know it’s not going to mutate your ovaries. It’s a plant product, zero calories, and you can substitute it for sugar in the exact same quantities in all baking. Yay.

Does it make you fart like a racehorse if you consume an entire box of stevia-sweetened chocolate digestives? Why yes, yes it does. Is it totally worth it? Why yes, yes it is.

But, of course, stevia isn’t the only sweetener out there. There are the artificial ones. And I’m guessing they’re cheaper to use commercially than stevia, or they wouldn’t be so prevalent. That’s the industrial food complex for you.

Artificial sweeteners are the source of that famous phrase “excessive use may have a laxative effect”.

I once had artificially sweetened chocolate ice cream that was unreasonably delicious. I didn’t have too much of it. At least I didn’t think I did.

But it did cause a laxative effect, by golly. Actually, it was more like an oil spill. I swear I was producing a petroleum product, by look and smell, for hours afterwards. It was foul. Never again.

Now there’s new research which suggests at least one artificial sweetener may be doing a bit more than causing a back-end blowout.

Research out of Anglia Ruskin University shows that neotame can cause previously healthy gut bacteria to become diseased and invade the gut wall – potentially leading to health issues including irritable bowel syndrome and sepsis, no less – and also cause a breakdown of the epithelial barrier, which forms part of the gut wall.


The research, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, demonstrates that neotame can damage the intestinal epithelium directly, by causing the death of epithelial cells, and indirectly, by damaging bacteria commonly found in the gut.

The in vitro study identified a range of pathogenic responses following exposure of Escherichia coli and Enterococcus faecalis to neotame – which is found in drinks, foods and chewing gums – including biofilm formation and increased adhesion to and invasion of cells by diseased bacteria.

“There is now growing awareness of the health impacts of sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose and aspartame, with our own previous work demonstrating the problems they can cause to the wall of the intestine and the damage to the ‘good bacteria’ which form in our gut,” said lead researcher Dr Havovi Chichger.

“This can lead to a range of potential health issues including diarrhoea, intestinal inflammation, and even infections such as septicaemia if the bacteria were to enter the bloodstream.

“Therefore, it is important to also study sweeteners that have been introduced more recently and our new research demonstrates that neotame causes similar problems, including gut bacteria becoming diseased.

“Understanding the impact of these pathogenic changes occurring in the gut microbiota is vital. Our findings also demonstrate the need to better understand common food additives more widely and the molecular mechanisms underlying potential negative health impacts.”

It’s hard being a sweet tooth, readers.

Diabetes to the left of me. Sepsis to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with poo.

Send all apologies to Stealers Wheel to

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