How to Seriously Damage a Microbiome


Artificial sweeteners have been mentioned here before, but we haven’t gotten into how these substances affect our gut flora. The short answer is, not well.

For Scientific American, Ellen Ruppel Shell reported on the Israeli scientific team whose work with mice led them to describe a “cause-and-effect chain” leading from artificial sweeteners like saccharin to an adverse effect on our microbes, and then to obesity and diabetes in humans.

Shell wrote:

This study was not the first to note this link in animals, but it was the first to find evidence of a plausible cause: the sweeteners appear to change the population of intestinal bacteria that direct metabolism, the conversion of food to energy or stored fuel.

And that is the crux of the matter. The indications point to a need for people to be more cautious about messing around with the indwelling bugs, who are in a position to make our lives miserable. One thing these substances can do is cause a population explosion among “bacteria that make more calories available to us…” The relationship to obesity is obvious.

As always, others in the scientific community do not consider that a meaningful link has been proven. But more connections continue to appear.

Research scientist Meghan Azad, of the University of Manitoba, said:

Infants born to women who regularly consumed one or more artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy were twice as likely to be overweight by 1 year of age.

Shell captured a pertinent quotation from New York University gastroenterologist Ilseung Cho:

A hormone is like a force multiplier — and if a change in our gut microbes has an impact on hormones that control eating, well, that would explain a lot.

Long “naughty” list

The microbiome has been found to detest many things: refined sugar, herbicides, pesticides, and genetically engineered foods. Statements like this one, from the Alliance for Natural Health, upset people:

The only published human feeding experiment revealed that genetic material inserted into GE soy transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. Even after we stop eating GE foods, we may still have the GE proteins produced continuously inside us.

The microbiota also suffer from — and rebel against — the presence of gluten; antibiotics as medicine or secondhand from animal additives; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; chlorinated and fluoridated water; pollution; and stress. Again, there is a sizable overlap with the list of factors that are identified, to a greater or lesser extent, as obesity villains.

If Big Food is backing any gut flora research, in hopes of finding some foothold or advantage, the endeavor seems bound to disappoint. Studies of the microbiome, if honestly performed, could turn around and bite them, and they might wish they have left the subject alone. Because, so far, the evidence is strong that our friendly, helpful microbes don’t like junk food.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Artificial Sweeteners May Change Our Gut Bacteria in Dangerous Ways,”, 03/17/15
Source: “Artificial Sweeteners During Pregnancy May Make for Heavier Infants,”, 05/09/16
Source: “Get to Know Your Microbiome for Health & Wellness,”, 06/05/15
Source: “Genetically Engineered Food Alters Our Digestive Systems!,”, 05/31/11
Photo credit: frankieleon via Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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