© 2014 Palmnäs et al. Aspartame consumption is implicated in the development of obesity and metabolic disease despite the intention of limiting caloric intake. The mechanisms responsible for this association remain unclear, but may involve circulating metabolites and the gut microbiota. Aims were to examine the impact of chronic low-dose aspartame consumption on anthropometric, metabolic and microbial parameters in a diet-induced obese model. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were randomized into a standard chow diet (CH, 12% kcal fat) or high fat (HF, 60% kcal fat) and further into ad libitum water control (W) or low-dose aspartame (A, 5-7 mg/kg/d in drinking water) treatments for 8 week (n = 10-12 animals/treatment). Animals on aspartame consumed fewer calories, gained less weight and had a more favorable body composition when challenged with HF compared to animals consuming water. Despite this, aspartame elevated fasting glucose levels and an insulin tolerance test showed aspartame to impair insulin-stimulated glucose disposal in both CH and HF, independently of body composition. Fecal analysis of gut bacterial composition showed aspartame to increase total bacteria, the abundance of Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridium leptum. An interaction between HF and aspartame was also observed for Roseburia ssp wherein HF-A was higher than HF-W (P < 0.05). Within HF, aspartame attenuated the typical HF-induced increase in the Firmicutes:Bacteroidetes ratio. Serum metabolomics analysis revealed aspartame to be rapidly metabolized and to be associated with elevations in the short chain fatty acid propionate, a bacterial end product and highly gluconeogenic substrate, potentially explaining its negative affects on insulin tolerance. How aspartame influences gut microbial composition and the implications of these changes on the development of metabolic disease require further investigation.
Palmnäs, M. S. A., Cowan, T. E., Bomhof, M. R., Su, J., Reimer, R. A., Vogel, H. J., … Shearer, J. (2014). Low-dose aspartame consumption differentially affects gut microbiota-host metabolic interactions in the diet-induced obese rat. PLoS ONE, 9(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0109841