Non-nutritive sweeteners may increase the risk of premature birth

Talk by Professor Shih-Min Hsia from the School of Nutrition and Health Sciences, College of Nutrition

Source: College of Nutrition

Published on 2022-11-02

Supported by the National Research Council provided through integrated project funding, Professor Shih-Min Hsia’s research team at the School of Nutrition and Health Sciences of Taipei Medical University has found a potential relationship between long- term exposure to the non-nutritive sweetener acesulfame potassium and uterine hypercontraction, particularly those induced by oxytocin, and reported the discovery in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. In the study, it was demonstrated that an excessive intake of non-nutritive sweeteners containing acesulfame potassium may cause uterine hypercontraction and increase preterm risk, suggesting that pregnant women should avoid long-term consumption of processed foods containing artificial sweeteners.

Professor Shih-Min Hsia, School of Nutrition and Health Sciences, College of Nutrition

Along with the development of the food industry, the demand for sugar has been gradually increasing. Due to their high level of sweetness and low cost, non- nutritive sweeteners are often used in the food industry as food additives. Previous studies have shown the consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners to be associated with a 1.2-fold increase in preterm births and a reduction in the gestational period by 0.11 weeks, but the effect of acesulfame potassium exposure on uterine contraction in pregnant women has not yet been studied.

Uterine hypercontraction is significantly triggered by the influx of calcium ions or oxytocin signaling pathway, which causes the contraction of uterine muscle bundles. The medical conditions caused by uterine hypercontraction include preterm labor risk, endometriosis, and menstrual pain, and consequent inflammatory responses can result in the secretion of cytokines and the aggravation of oxidative stress, which may lead to menstrual discomfort and a deterioration in life quality for women.

In the study, it was revealed that exposure to acesulfame potassium caused an upsurge in the concentration of calcium ions in uterine smooth muscle cells and calcium ion influx, which resulted in an increase in uterine contractions. In a long-term exposure experiment, the subjects were fed daily with an amount of acesulfame potassium equivalent to that contained in two cans of Coca-Cola Zero, as well as a tolerable daily intake via oral gavage for 8 weeks. The results showed that acesulfame potassium increased intrauterine pressure and oxytocin-induced contractions. In a further clinical collaboration, it was found in a cohort study that pregnant women with higher exposure to acesulfame potassium had a higher risk of preterm birth.

This study was the first to investigate the influence of non-nutritive sweeteners on pregnant women and confirm their effect on uterine hypercontraction with scientific evidence, alerting people with their life quality affected by uterine hypercontraction, such as those with menstrual pain, endometriosis, and pregnancy to the risk of long- term consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners.

The effects of exposure to the non-nutritive sweetener acesulfame potassium on the risk of preterm birth due to uterine hypercontraction and the calcium signaling pathway.

Original research article: