A commonly used artificial sweetener found in diet drinks and sugar-free foods could be used to treat diseases in humans, a study has found. Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London found that consuming a high amount of sucralose sweetener lowers the activation of T cells - a type of white blood cell.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, about 600 times sweeter than sugar. However, like many other artificial sweeteners, the effects of sucralose on the body are not yet fully understood.
A recent study carried out on mice has shown the consumption of sucralose can impact health by lowering the activation of white blood cells. Scientists have said if these initial findings hold up in people, they could one day offer a way to limit some of the harmful effects of autoimmune conditions
Karen Vousden, senior author and principal group leader at the Crick, says: "We’re hoping to piece together a bigger picture of the effects of diet on health and disease so that one day we can advise on diets that are best suited to individual patients, or find elements of our diet that doctors can exploit for treatment.
"More research and studies are needed to see whether these effects of sucralose in mice can be reproduced in humans. If these initial findings hold up in people, they could one day offer a way to limit some of the harmful effects of autoimmune conditions."
Researchers said their findings should not sound alarm bells for those wanting to ensure they have a healthy immune system or recover from the disease. Humans consuming normal or moderately elevated amounts of sucralose would not be exposed to the levels achieved in this study.
Karis Betts, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “This study begins to explore how high doses of sucralose could potentially be used in new treatment options for patients, but it’s still early days.
“The results of this study don’t show harmful effects of sucralose for humans so you don’t need to think about changing your diet to avoid it.”
The researchers are continuing this work and are hoping to run trials to test if sucralose has a similar effect in humans. The doses tested were within recommended consumption limits, but would be the equivalent of drinking about 30 cups of sweetened coffee in a day or 10 cans of a diet fizzy drink.
Scientists hope the findings could lead to a new way of using much higher therapeutic doses of sucralose in patients, building on the observation that when mice with T cell-mediated autoimmune disease were given a high-dose sucralose diet, it helped to mitigate the harmful effects of their overactive T cells.