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Surprising study finds artificial sweetener sucralose has major therapeutic benefits

[Sept. 3, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

Study made a major breakthrough in the field of immunology by finding that the artificial sweetener sucralose has therapeutic benefits. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have made a significant breakthrough in the field of immunology by finding that the artificial sweetener sucralose could have therapeutic benefits.

The study, published in Nature, found that mice fed high levels of sucralose experienced lowered activation of T-cells, which play a vital role in the immune system. If these effects are seen in humans, sucralose could be used therapeutically to dampen T-cell responses, which could be beneficial for patients with autoimmune diseases that experience uncontrolled T-cell activation.


Sucralose is commonly used as an artificial sweetener in food and drink products and is around 600 times sweeter than sugar. However, the impact of sucralose on the body is not yet fully understood. Previous studies have suggested that it can affect human health by impacting the microbiome, but the new study by the Francis Crick Institute is the first to explore its impact on the immune system.

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and conducted by researchers from the Francis Crick Institute and Swansea University Medical School. Mice were fed sucralose at levels equivalent to the acceptable daily intake recommended by European and American food safety authorities. Although these doses are achievable, they would not normally be reached by people simply consuming food or drinks containing sweeteners as part of a normal diet.


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The results showed that the mice fed high doses of sucralose were less able to activate T-cells in response to cancer or infection, but no effect was seen on other types of immune cells. Upon closer inspection, the researchers found that a high dose of sucralose impacted intracellular calcium release in response to stimulation, which dampened T-cell function.

Although the study's results should not be a cause for concern for those looking to maintain a healthy immune system, they could pave the way for new therapeutic uses of sucralose. The researchers observed that mice with T-cell mediated autoimmune disease experienced mitigated harmful effects when given a high-dose sucralose diet.


Karen Vousden, senior author and principal group leader at the Crick, said that the study aimed to explore the effects of diet on health and disease to help doctors advise on diets best suited to individual patients. The research team hopes that their findings could lead to the development of new treatments for autoimmune conditions.

Sucralose treatment dampens T cell-mediated inflammation in models of autoimmunity. (CREDIT: Nature Communications)

Fabio Zani, co-first author and postdoctoral training fellow at the Crick, emphasised that the doses used in the study would be very hard to achieve without medical intervention, and that the impact on the immune system observed was reversible. He suggested that sucralose could be used in combination with other therapies to treat autoimmune conditions.


Julianna Blagih, co-first author and former postdoctoral training fellow at the Crick, said that the study had uncovered an unexpected effect of the commonly used sweetener on the immune system, and the team was keen to explore whether there were other cell types or processes similarly affected by sucralose.

Sucralose delays the onset of T1D and reduces inflammatory T cells in a T-cell induced colitis model in mice. (CREDIT: Nature Communications)

Karis Betts, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, cautioned that the results of the study did not show harmful effects of sucralose for humans, and that people did not need to change their diets to avoid it.

The research team is now planning to conduct trials to test if sucralose has similar effects in humans. Although further studies are needed, the discovery could represent a significant step forward in the development of new treatments for autoimmune diseases.


Other studies on sucralose and autoimmune conditions

While the study conducted by the Francis Crick Institute is the first to show a potential therapeutic use of sucralose in autoimmune conditions, there have been other studies investigating the relationship between sucralose and autoimmune disorders.

A study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that sucralose consumption was associated with an increased risk of autoimmune disease in mice. The researchers noted that while more research is needed to determine if the same is true in humans, their findings suggest that sucralose may have a negative impact on the immune system.

Another study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health investigated the relationship between sucralose consumption and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease. The study found that individuals with SLE had higher levels of sucralose in their urine compared to healthy controls. The researchers concluded that further studies are needed to determine if sucralose plays a role in the development or exacerbation of SLE.

A study published in Autoimmunity Reviews investigated the potential role of artificial sweeteners, including sucralose, in the development of autoimmune diseases. The researchers noted that while there is limited evidence to support a direct link between artificial sweetener consumption and autoimmune disorders, some studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners may alter gut microbiota, which could indirectly contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.


It's important to note that the studies mentioned above do not provide conclusive evidence of a link between sucralose consumption and autoimmune disorders in humans. More research is needed to determine the impact of sucralose on human health, particularly in individuals with autoimmune conditions.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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