Sucralose, a chemical found in the popular zero-calorie sweetener Splenda, may have damaging side effects. Researchers claim it is “genotoxic,” meaning it may cause damage to DNA, increasing cancer risks and causing leaks in the gut lining. A study from researchers at North Carolina State University found that sucralose, which is 600 times sweeter than sugar, may interact with gut bacteria to form harmful chemicals.
According to Healthline, the study authors say that a metabolite of sucralose called sucralose-6-acetate is formed when the sweetener comes into contact with certain gut bacteria. This compound is also found in small amounts in some commercial sucralose products as a byproduct of the manufacturing process.
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Sucralose is often added to diet sodas, baked goods, chewing gums, gelatins, and frozen desserts. It’s even found in drug products like Tylenol, Pepcid and cold and flu medications, says the New York Post.
A spokesperson for Splenda, one of the most popular marketed forms of sucralose in the U.S., said “we rigorously and routinely test and monitor for any impurities in our products. We can confirm that sucralose-6-acetate is not present in Splenda Brand sucralose.”
But the latest research shows that in the human body, sucralose can break down into sucralose-6-acetate. In the new study, published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, researchers concluded that their findings “raise health and safety concerns regarding the continued presence of sucralose in the food supply.”
What they found was alarming, says the Post. “Sucralose-6-acetate significantly increased the expression of genes associated with inflammation, oxidative stress and cancer,” the authors wrote.
In Europe, regulatory agencies set maximum levels of sucralose-6-acetate allowed in food products. But the authors of the new study claim that the amount of this chemical in a single serving of sucralose containing beverage could be high enough to potentially damage DNA.
The latest research is another red flag about the potential health risks of certain artificial sweeteners. Last year, a group of French researchers found that consuming sucralose was linked to higher cardiovascular risks, including the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, says Healthline. A 2022 study published in the journal Cell showed that sucralose and saccharin could potentially raise blood sugar levels, which is linked to an elevated risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Last month, the World Health Organization issued new guidelines advising against the use of artificial sweeteners for weight loss or to reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes because in the long term, they may do more damage than good to the body.
Experts agree that in small amounts sugar substitutes are fine, but in excess they may impact other areas of the body. Kate Cohen, a registered dietitian at the Ellison Clinic in Los Angeles, recommends using stevia or monk fruit sweeteners if you want something sweet. Make sure products do not contain the artificial sweetener erythritol, which was recently linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
Better still, wean your taste buds off sweeteners altogether.
“Start cutting your sweeteners in half for a few weeks and gradually reduce from there,” says Cohen. “Your taste buds will adjust, and you’ll be much healthier.”
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