Study finds artificial sweetener in diet soft drinks has unexpected effects on immune system

Scientists say artificial sweeteners commonly used in hot drinks and diet soft drinks have an “unexpected effect” on the immune system. Sucralose lowers T cell activation in mice, according to researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London [1].

While this may initially sound alarming, experts are excited by the findings. People with autoimmune disorders, including type 1 diabetes, could benefit from the sweetener if similar effects were found in humans. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s own defense system attacks it instead of protecting it.

Senior author Karen Vousden said: “If these initial findings hold up in people, they may be able to help limit some of the harmful effects of autoimmune conditions in the future.” The researchers hope their findings could lead to a new way to use much higher doses of sucralose in patients in the future.

It has been shown that sucralose, a commonly used sweetener, is not completely inert, as Julianna Blagih, an author of the study, explained: “We have found that sucralose has an unexpected effect on immunity. Our goal is to investigate whether this sweetener affects other cell types or processes similarly.”

Those who consume normal or moderately increased levels of sucralose would not be subjected to the levels looked at in the study. Test doses would be equivalent to drinking 30 cups of sweetened coffee daily or ten cans of diet soda.

Many foods and drinks contain sucralose, a sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager, Karis Betts, said: “This study examines how sucralose could potentially be used in new treatment options for patients, but it is still early days. There are no harmful effects of sucralose for humans found in this study, so you don’t need to change your diet..”

The findings were published this week in the journal Nature [2].


Photograph: carrascosaoscar/Envato
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