By Dr. Mercola
The artificial sweetener sucralose, better known by its brand name Splenda, has been on the US market for fifteen years.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Splenda in 1998 based on more than 110 safety studies, only two of which were actually conducted on humans (these two studies consisted of a combined total of 36 people, of which only 23 people actually ingested sucralose!).
Since then we've seen many red flags that this artificial sweetener is anything but safe, not the least of which are the many personal anecdotes of adverse reactions to Splenda, which are posted on my site.
Research has also been conducted showing that Splenda is not the safe sugar alternative it was promoted to be (see below for a few examples), and now even the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is sounding an alarm against this popular artificial sweetener.
CSPI Finally Gets It Right About Splenda
CSPI, a consumer watchdog group that focuses on nutrition and food safety, has finally downgraded Splenda from its former "safe" category to one of "caution." The move came following an unpublished study by an independent Italian laboratory that found Splenda may cause leukemia in mice.1 According to CSPI:2
"The only previous long-term feeding studies in animals were conducted by the compound's manufacturers."
After more than 10 years, CSPI has finally gotten it right about Splenda, but generally this is an organization whose guidelines need to be taken with a grain of salt. For starters, while recommending that people avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin, they also consider drinking diet soda to be safer than drinking regular soda.
Yet, there's little doubt in my mind that artificial sweeteners can be even worse for you than sugar and fructose, and there is scientific evidence to back up that conclusion. I am glad they finally came to their senses. I remember pleading with Michael Jacobson, their director, many years ago to reevaluate his position, but at the time he was convinced of Splenda's safety.
CSPI also spearheaded a campaign against the use of healthful saturated fats during the 1980s, touting trans fats as a healthier alternative. It was largely the result of CSPI's campaign that fast-food restaurants replaced the use of beef tallow, palm oil and coconut oil with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in synthetic trans fats (linked to numerous chronic diseases like heart disease).
In 1988, CSPI even released an article praising trans fats and saying "there is little good evidence that trans fats cause any more harm than other fats" and "much of the anxiety over trans fats stems from their reputation as 'unnatural.'"3
It wasn't until the 1990s that CSPI reversed their position on synthetic trans fats, citing it as the greater public health danger, but the damage had already been done. Even to this day, many still mistakenly believe that margarine is a healthier choice than butter… but getting back to Splenda, it's a step in the right direction that CSPI has sounded an alarm over its use.
"Caution" Regarding Splenda Is Putting It Mildly...
I would instead say that this artificial sweetener should be avoided like the plague. In 2005, I wrote Sweet Deception, in which I expose the many concerns related to the consumption of artificial sweeteners. It's an extremely well-researched book, and it's every bit as valid today as it was when I first wrote it. I spent over three years, and had five health care professionals work on it with me to be absolutely sure of our findings.
I did this because the maker of Splenda, Johnson & Johnson, had their New York legal firm write me a 20-page letter threatening to sue me if I published the book. Needless to say, the book was published and they never sued me as the information was all true.
Splenda is a synthetic chemical created in a laboratory. In the five-step patented process of making it, three chlorine molecules are added to one sucrose (sugar) molecule. Some will argue that natural foods also contain chloride, which is true.
However, in natural foods, the chloride is connected with ionic bonds that easily dissociate. In Splenda, they're in a covalent bond that does not dissociate. In fact, there are NO covalent chloride bonds to organic compounds in nature, only ionic. Covalent chloride bonds only exist in synthetic, man-made molecules. Aside from Splenda, other examples of synthetic covalently bound chloride compounds include:
Your body has no enzymes to break down this covalently bound chloride. Why would it? It never existed in nature, so the human body never had a reason to address it. And since it's not broken down and metabolized by your body, they can claim it to be non-caloric—essentially, it's supposed to pass right through you. However, the research (which is primarily extrapolated from animal studies) indicates that about 15 percent of sucralose IS in fact absorbed into your digestive system, and ultimately stored in your body.
Splenda May Wreak Havoc Within Your Digestive Tract
Splenda has been found to be particularly damaging to your intestines. A study published in 2008 found that Splenda:4
- Reduces the amount of beneficial bacteria in your intestines by 50 percent
- Increases the pH level in your intestines
- Affects a glycoprotein in your body that can have crucial health effects, particularly if you're on certain medications like chemotherapy, or treatments for AIDS and certain heart conditions
Further, some of the initial studies done on Splenda revealed:
- Decreased red blood cells -- sign of anemia -- at levels above 1,500 mg/kg/day
- Increased male infertility by interfering with sperm production and vitality, as well as brain lesions at higher doses
- Enlarged and calcified kidneys
- Spontaneous abortions in nearly half the rabbit population given sucralose, compared to zero aborted pregnancies in the control group
- A 23 percent death rate in rabbits, compared to a 6 percent death rate in the control group
Worse still, the longest of the two human trials conducted on Splenda lasted only four days and looked at sucralose in relation to tooth decay, not human tolerance! So if you've been ingesting Splenda for years, you're actually acting as a human guinea pig, as no one knows what happens when humans consume this substance for long periods. Even the health food giant Whole Foods counts sucralose on its list of unacceptable ingredients for food…5
Aspartame Also Linked to Leukemia
Splenda is not the only artificial sweetener that has been linked to leukemia. The longest-ever human aspartame study, spanning 22 years, found a clear association between aspartame consumption and non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and leukemia in men.6
The long-term nature of this study is really crucial because one of the primary tricks manufacturers use to hide the toxicity of their products are short-term trials. The longest study prior to this one was only 4.5 months, far too short to reveal any toxicity from chronic exposure. Unfortunately, because there are so many of these short-term trials, manufacturers get away with saying that aspartame is one of the most studied food additives ever made and no health concerns have ever been discovered. Splenda's maker has used similar tricks as well.
Aspartame is primarily made up of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The phenylalanine has been synthetically modified to carry a methyl group, which provides the majority of the sweetness. That phenylalanine methyl bond, called a methyl ester, is very weak, which allows the methyl group on the phenylalanine to easily break off and form methanol. This is in sharp contrast to naturally-occurring methanol found in certain fruits and vegetables, where it is firmly bonded to pectin, allowing the methanol to be safely passed through your digestive tract.
Methanol acts as a metabolic Trojan horse; it's carried into susceptible tissues in your body, like your brain and bone marrow, where the ADH enzyme converts it into formaldehyde, which wreaks havoc with sensitive proteins and DNA. All other animals, on the other hand, have a protective mechanism that allows methanol to be broken down into harmless formic acid… but, according to aspartame expert Dr. Woodrow Monte, there's a major biochemical problem with methanol in humans, because of the difference in how it's metabolized, compared to all other animals. This is why toxicology testing on animals is a flawed model. It doesn't fully apply to humans who are unable to convert the toxic formaldehyde into harmless formic acid.
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Take the Artificial Sweetener-Free Challenge
It's quite possible that you could be having a reaction to artificial sweeteners and not even know it or be blaming it on another cause. For instance, the following reactions have all been reported after the consumption of Splenda:
||Blood sugar increases
To determine if you're having a reaction to artificial sweeteners, take the following steps:
- Eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet for two weeks.
- After two weeks of being artificial sweetener-free, reintroduce your artificial sweetener of choice in a significant quantity (about three servings daily).
- Avoid other artificial sweeteners during this period.
- Do this for one to three days and notice how you feel, especially as compared to when you were consuming no artificial sweeteners.
- If you don't notice a difference in how you feel after re-introducing your primary artificial sweetener for a few days, it's a safe bet you're able to tolerate it acutely, meaning your body doesn't have an immediate, adverse response. However, this doesn't mean your health won't be damaged in the long run.
- If you've been consuming more than one type of artificial sweetener, you can repeat steps 2 through 4 with the next one on your list.
If you do experience side effects from Splenda, aspartame or any other food additive, please report it to the FDA (if you live in the US) without delay. It's easy to make a report — just go to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page, find the phone number for your state, and make a call reporting your reaction.
Try This Natural Alternative to Artificial Sweeteners
If you're in the mood for something sweet, the herb stevia is one of my favorite options for an occasional sweetener. It's a safe, natural plant that has been around for over 1,500 years and is ideal if you're watching your weight, or if you're maintaining your health by avoiding sugar. It is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and has virtually no calories.
Further, research suggests it may actually have some beneficial properties, as one study revealed that diabetic rats given stevia had a delayed but significant decrease in blood glucose level,7 without producing hypoglycemia, while also demonstrating a loss in body weight.
Personally, I believe stevia is the best sweetener available today. Many complain about a bitter aftertaste with stevia, but this is typically related to the processing. I prefer to use it in its liquid form in flavors like English Toffee and French Vanilla (it only require a few drops to sweeten a drink). That said, like most choices, especially sweeteners, I recommend using it in moderation, just like sugar.