High-intensity sweetener consumption and gut microbiome content and predicted gene function in a cross-sectional study of adults in the United States

Ann Epidemiol. 2015 Oct;25(10):736-42.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2015.06.083. Epub 2015 Jul 17.


Purpose: To evaluate gut microbiome in relation to recent high-intensity sweetener consumption in healthy adults.

Methods: Thirty-one adults completed a four-day food record and provided a fecal sample on the fifth day. Bacterial community in the samples was analyzed using multitag pyrosequencing. Across consumers and nonconsumers of aspartame and acesulfame-K, bacterial abundance was compared using nonparametric statistics, and bacterial diversity was compared using UniFrac analysis. Phylogenetic Investigation of Communities by Reconstruction of Unobserved States (PICRUSt) was used to predict mean relative abundance of gene function.

Results: There were seven aspartame consumers and seven acesulfame-K consumers. Three individuals overlapped groups, consuming both sweeteners. There were no differences in median bacterial abundance (class or order) across consumers and nonconsumers of either sweetener. Overall bacterial diversity was different across nonconsumers and consumers of aspartame (P < .01) and acesulfame-K (P = .03). Mean predicted gene abundance did not differ across consumers and nonconsumers of aspartame or acesulfame-K.

Conclusions: Bacterial abundance profiles and predicted gene function were not associated with recent dietary high-intensity sweetener consumption. However, bacterial diversity differed across consumers and nonconsumers. Given the increasing consumption of sweeteners and the role that the microbiome may have in chronic disease outcomes, work in further studies is warranted.

Keywords: Diet; Microbiota; Sweetening agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aspartame / pharmacology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet Records
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Energy Intake
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology*
  • Thiazines / pharmacology
  • United States


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Sweetening Agents
  • Thiazines
  • acetosulfame
  • Aspartame