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Acesulfame-K (Ace-K) is a calorie-free sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is used in various food products available in the market. Ace-K is one of the five artificial sweeteners approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
A variety of drinks and foods consist of Ace-K, which includes table-top sweeteners, dairy products, chewing gum, jam, frozen desserts, baked goods, and cola and fizzy drinks. It is mainly used in baked items as it retains its sweetness even at very high temperatures. Ace-K cannot be stored in the human body or broken down during digestion; after consumption, it is rapidly absorbed and excreted by the body without any change.
Ace-K was first discovered in 1967 by Hoechst AG, Germany. Thereafter, nearly hundred studies have been conducted to evaluate Ace-K safety. Every time, they revealed that this sugar-free sweetener is considered to be safe and suitable for ingestion. In 1983, it was approved for using this sweetener in food and beverages and it is used in nearly 100 countries all over the world.
Experiments conducted on rats that were fed with Ace-K for 4 weeks revealed that Ace-K disturbs the gut microbiome (change in gut bacterial composition and population and their metabolism) which in turn led to weight gain in the body in male rats but not in female.
Another study found that, like all sulfonamides, Ace-K also inhibits bacterial activity. A study based on a 4-day record carried out in the US found that there is a significant diversity in the gut bacterial population among those who consume and do not consume artificial sweeteners. However, the way in which gut microbiome is perturbed is largely not known.
In 2011, research was performed to investigate any effect on offspring due to constant exposure of their mothers to Ace-K during pregnancy or the lactation period. Ace-K was able to pass through the placenta and was also found in mother’s milk. This did not cause any serious impact in the offspring or the mothers; therefore, the intake of Ace-K is deemed safe for pregnant or lactating women.
In 2013, investigation was carried out for determining the effects on the nervous system during long-term Ace-K consumption. For this, C57BL/6J (WT) mice were treated with Ace-K for 40 weeks. The Ace-K-fed mice showed reduced memory functions, while the motor function and anxiety levels were not altered. Therefore, the study suggests that chronic intake of Ace-K may influence cognitive functions through modifications in neurometabolic functions. Up until now, only a few detailed studies of the long-term use of Ace-K are available and further research on it should be performed to better understand the effects of chronic consumption of this artificial sweetener on humans. However, it is safer to use Ace-K as per the FDA’s ADI level to avoid risk of unsuspected health problems.