A study of an artificial sweetener commonly used in hot drinks and diet soft drinks has found it had “unexpected effects on the immune system”, scientists say.
Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London found that consuming high amounts of sucralose reduced the activation of T cells, a type of white blood cell, in mice.
While this may initially seem like a worrying thing, experts are excited about the findings.
If the sweetener is found to have similar effects in humans, it could be used to treat patients with autoimmune diseases, including conditions such as type 1 diabetes.
Autoimmune diseases are when the body’s built-in defense system accidentally attacks the body instead of protecting it.
“If these initial findings hold up in humans, they may one day provide a way to limit some of the harmful effects of autoimmune disease,” said Karen Vousden, senior author of the study.
The researchers hope their findings will lead to a new way to use higher therapeutic doses of sucralose in patients.
Julianna Blagih, one of the authors of the study, said: “We have shown that sucralose, a commonly used sweetener, is not a completely inert molecule and we have also found implications for the immune system. unexpected impact.
“We are keen to explore whether there are other cell types or processes that are similarly affected by this sweetener.”
People who consumed normal or moderately increased amounts of sucralose were not exposed to the levels reached in the study.
The doses tested were within recommended consumption limits, but equivalent to drinking about 30 cups of sweetened coffee, or 10 cans of diet soda, per day.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is about 600 times sweeter than sugar and is commonly used in food and beverages. However, its effects on the body are not fully understood.
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Karis Betts, Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager, said: “This study begins to explore how high doses of sucralose might be used in new treatment options for patients, but it is still in its early stages.
“The results of this study do not show harmful effects of sucralose in humans, so you don’t need to consider changing your diet to avoid it.”
The findings were published in the journal Nature.