The natural sweetener Stevia can cause an intestinal microbial imbalance that can disturb the health of the gastrointestinal tract.
Stevia a low-calorie natural sweetener has been gaining popularity in foods and beverages. New scientific evidence has implicated the sweetener in a microbial intestinal imbalance that can lead to a variety of gastrointestinal health problems. These were presented in the scientific journal Molecules on 23 November.
An imbalance in bacterial communication
Israeli researchers at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev have shown that the sweetener interferes with the communication between different bacteria in the intestinal microbiome. Moreover, when Stevia inhibits these pathways, it does not kill the bacteria. “This is a first study that indicates that more research is needed before the food industry replaces sugar and artificial sweeteners with Stevia and its extracts,” said Dr. Karina Golberg, lead author of the study. In terms of safety, we cannot say at this stage of the study that Stevia is toxic or unsafe, and further in vivo studies are needed.
The researchers make it clear that their goal is not to ban Stevia but to warn of possible risks. “Those who take Stevia must be aware that we can actually damage the microbiome by interfering with its communication system,” she insists. Previous studies have shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose are toxic to bacteria in the digestive system and can cause many health problems, from weight gain to diabetes and even cancer.
Long-term high stevia concentrations, a potential risk
“We have shown that even a natural supplement can really disrupt bacterial communication,” Karina Golberg noted. The process of biological communication between cells is known as Quorum sensing. Several types of intestinal bacteria depend on it to synchronize their activity or to monitor their environment, for example. “The bacteria speak with a chemical language,” continued Professor Ariel Kushmaro, who directed the study. What we have seen in our research is that these molecules can actually intervene in this communication and bind specifically to the receptors associated with that communication”.
“It may be that it behaves slightly differently in the human gut,” he concluded. “I wouldn’t say that for sure, but we can assume that a high concentration of stevia will be a problem in the long run. I don’t know if that would be good for us”.