Non-nutritive sweeteners possess a bacteriostatic effect and alter gut microbiota in mice

PLoS One. 2018 Jul 5;13(7):e0199080. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0199080. eCollection 2018.


Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNSs) are widely used in various food products and soft drinks. There is growing evidence that NNSs contribute to metabolic dysfunction and can affect body weight, glucose tolerance, appetite, and taste sensitivity. Several NNSs have also been shown to have major impacts on bacterial growth both in vitro and in vivo. Here we studied the effects of various NNSs on the growth of the intestinal bacterium, E. coli, as well as the gut bacterial phyla Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, the balance between which is associated with gut health. We found that the synthetic sweeteners acesulfame potassium, saccharin and sucralose all exerted strong bacteriostatic effects. We found that rebaudioside A, the active ingredient in the natural NNS stevia, also had similar bacteriostatic properties, and the bacteriostatic effects of NNSs varied among different Escherichia coli strains. In mice fed a chow diet, sucralose increased Firmicutes, and we observed a synergistic effect on Firmicutes when sucralose was provided in the context of a high-fat diet. In summary, our data show that NNSs have direct bacteriostatic effects and can change the intestinal microbiota in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetite / drug effects
  • Bacteroidetes / drug effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects*
  • Carbonated Beverages / adverse effects
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects*
  • Firmicutes / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Non-Nutritive Sweeteners / administration & dosage*
  • Non-Nutritive Sweeteners / adverse effects
  • Saccharin / administration & dosage
  • Saccharin / adverse effects
  • Stevia / chemistry
  • Sucrose / administration & dosage
  • Sucrose / adverse effects
  • Sucrose / analogs & derivatives
  • Taste / drug effects
  • Thiazines / administration & dosage
  • Thiazines / adverse effects


  • Non-Nutritive Sweeteners
  • Thiazines
  • Sucrose
  • trichlorosucrose
  • Saccharin
  • acetosulfame

Grant support

This work was supported in part through NHMRC project grants APP1026310, APP1029672, APP1028887, APP1046090, APP1042416, APP1086851. G.G.N. is supported by an NHMRC career development fellowship II CDF1111940. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.