By Dr. Mercola
Sucralose, marketed under the brand name Splenda, is a best-selling artificial sweetener around the world. (In the European Union, sucralose is also known under the additive code E955.)
It has been nearly eight years since I published my concerns about Splenda in my book, Sweet Deception. Since then, evidence continues to support the concerns I had back then.
Splenda is found in tens of thousands of processed food products sold in 90 different countries, many of which are specifically marketed to those seeking to either lose weight or manage their diabetes.
Mounting research, however, shows that not only does it tend to worsen both of those problems, but it's also associated with an array of other troublesome side effects.
The Web site www.TruthAboutSplenda.com lists a variety of consumer complaints from Splenda consumption, many of which mimic other health conditions. Some of the most commonly reported adverse effects include:
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Seizures, dizziness, and migraines
- Blurred vision
- Allergic reactions
- Blood sugar increases and weight gain
But that's not all. Now, an in-depth scientific review1, 2 of sucralose published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health3 reveals an extensive list of safety concerns, including toxicity, DNA damage, and heightened carcinogenic potential when used in cooking.
It also blows a huge hole in the argument that Splenda is a good choice for diabetics and/or those seeking to lose weight.
Sucralose—NOT Safe for Cooking After All
The featured report came to several important conclusions—all of which challenge the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) status of sucralose. Of primary concern is that sucralose is not an inert substance.
When heated, it releases chloropropanols, which belong to a class of toxins known as dioxins. One of the selling points of Splenda is that it remains stable when heated, making it well-suited for cooking and baking, but these findings refute such claims. (Many other artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, are not recommended for cooking purposes as they're known to break down in high temperatures.)
As reported by Sayer Ji at GreenMedInfo.com,4 research now shows that sucralose starts breaking down at 119 degrees Celsius; 180 degrees Celsius causes it to degrade completely.
Dioxin is a waste product of incineration, smelting, chlorine bleaching, and pesticide manufacturing, and its well-documented health effects include cancer and endocrine disruption. In fact, dioxin, which was a toxic component of the Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, is easily one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man.
Another study5 published in October also expressed concern over the chlorination reactions that occur when sucralose is cooked in stainless steel cookware, generating highly toxic compounds, including dioxins6 and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs).
Recent animal research also suggests a link between Splenda consumption and an increased risk of leukemia.7 Based on such research, the time is more than ripe for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider the GRAS status of sucralose...
Sucralose Also Destroys Your Gut Health
The featured review also concluded that sucralose destroys gut bacteria. (In fact, animal research8 published in 2008 found it could kill as much as 50 percent of your microbiome.)
This is very important, as anytime you destroy healthy intestinal bacteria, you open yourself up to unfriendly micro-organisms that can cause health problems. Your immune system, which is imperative for general health, is dependent on healthy gut flora, so the idea that this artificial sweetener may destroy up to half of all your healthy gut bacteria is disconcerting to say the least.
Worse yet, sucralose appears to target beneficial microorganisms to a greater extent than pathogenic and other more detrimental bacteria. And remarkably, according to one study, these adverse effects on gut microbiota remained even after a three-month long recovery period...
Early studies, upon which its approval was based, claimed that sucralose would simply pass unchanged through the human gastrointestinal tract, but more recent investigations show that it is indeed metabolized in your gut. And, as reported in the featured review, "the identity and safety profile of these putative sucralose metabolites are not known at this time."
The third issue is of particular importance for diabetics, who tend to use artificial sweeteners to manage their condition.9 Alas, both animal and human studies showed sucralose alters glucose, insulin and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) levels. A related study published in the journal Diabetes Care10 in September came to a virtually identical conclusion. Compared to the control group, obese patients using sucralose experienced a greater incremental increase in peak plasma concentrations, a greater incremental increase in insulin and peak insulin secretion rate, along with a decrease in insulin clearance. According to the authors:
"These data demonstrate that sucralose affects the glycemic and insulin responses to an oral glucose load in obese people who do not normally consume non-nutritive sweeteners."
Toxicological Issues Still Need to Be Addressed
According to the featured review, there are "numerous toxicological issues regarding long-term exposure to sucralose" that remain "unresolved." This includes:
- Genotoxicity (DNA damage) and potentially adverse epigenetic effects
- The generation of toxic compounds when heated
- Bioaccumulation (One 2009 study found unmistakable evidence that Splenda is absorbed by body fat, contrary to previous claims)
- Potential drug interactions
The paper also notes that the acceptable daily intake (ADI) set for sucralose may in fact be hundreds of times too high to ensure safety! According to more recent research, the no-observed-effect-level (NOEL) in rats' gut bacteria is actually 454 times lower than earlier studies showed. If the biological effects of sucralose are similar in both rats and humans, then you could experience health effects even if you consume sucralose at levels well below the ADI. Also consider this:
"Sucralose is classified by the FDA as safe for human consumption as a food additive. The FDA stated that their decision was based upon results from 110 animal and human studies of the effects of sucralose. Of the 110 studies, two were on human beings, with one being a four day trial by the manufacturer," The Examiner reports. [Emphasis mine]
I might also add that these two studies consisted of a combined total of 36 people, of which only 23 people actually ingested sucralose, and the four-day trial looked at sucralose in relation to tooth decay, not human tolerance! Sadly, if you're a long-term Splenda user, you're actually acting as a human guinea pig, as no one knows what happens when humans consume this substance for long periods.
If you look through the research literature, you'll find that only about 10 percent of the studies involving sucralose have anything at all to do with safety. In fact, eight years ago when I wrote the book Sweet Deception, in which I expose the many concerns related to the consumption of artificial sweeteners, there were only 15 studies relating to the safety of sucralose, and 13 of them were funded by the company that makes Splenda, leaving enormous room for conflict of interest.
Industry Funded Studies FAR More Prone to Miss Safety Concerns
If you believe a company can be trusted to perform independent safety studies for their own products, consider the following example. In 1996, Dr. Ralph G. Walton reviewed 165 studies on the widely used artificial sweetener aspartame, discovering a remarkable discrepancy between study results and their source of funding. Of the 165 studies, 74 had industry related funding and 91 were independently funded. Of those:
- 100 percent of the industry funded studies supported aspartame's safety, while
- 92 percent of the independently funded studies identified at least one potential health concern
Dr. Walton also pointed out that of the seven remaining non-industry funded studies that supported aspartame's safety, six were done by the FDA, and the seventh was a literature review of mostly industry sponsored research.11 Considering the long-standing revolving door between various industries and the FDA, it's questionable as to whether an FDA study can be considered truly "independent," even though they were counted as independent in Walton's review. If you give that concern any merit, you'd essentially be looking at 100 percent of industry related studies claiming aspartame to be safe, and 100 percent of independent studies flagging some sort of health concern!
This is truly powerful documentation of the influence of corporately sponsored trials on safety or any other potential complication that can occur. This type of funding bias is a fatal flaw in the system, because in order to receive FDA approval, the product is not required to undergo any kind of independent study. If you're in the US and want to take some action on this issue, you can follow The Examiner's suggestion12 to contact Senators Sherrod Brown13 and Rob Portman14 and ask them to fund proper, independent safety studies on the artificial sweeteners sucralose and aspartame. They also recommend contacting Speaker of the House, John Boehner,15 and Congressmen Pat Tiberi,16 and Steve Stivers17 to support such research.
Prevalence and Diagnosis of Sucralose Sensitivity
Unfortunately, the adverse effects of sucralose are oftentimes misdiagnosed or overlooked entirely as the side effects are so varied and mimic common ailments. The following are common symptoms, usually noticed within a 24-hour period following consumption of a Splenda product:
Skin -- Redness, itching, swelling, blistering, weeping, crusting, rash, eruptions, or hives (itchy bumps or welts) Lungs -- Wheezing, tightness, cough, or shortness of breath Head -- Swelling of the face, eyelids, lips, tongue, or throat; headaches and migraines (severe headaches) Nose -- Stuffy nose, runny nose (clear, thin discharge), sneezing Eyes -- Red (bloodshot), itchy, swollen, or watery Stomach -- Bloating, gas, pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or bloody diarrhea Heart -- Palpitations or fluttering Joints -- Joint pains or aches Neurological -- Anxiety, dizziness, spaced-out sensation, depression
One of the best things you can do if you suspect you may be suffering from a sensitivity is to do an elimination challenge. Simply remove all sources of sucralose from your diet and see if your symptoms improve over the next several days. If the symptoms dissipate, then you probably have your answer. To double-check, reintroduce a small amount of sucralose and see how you react over the next 24 hours.
Keep in mind that if you've been using Splenda for some time, gastrointestinal problems and related health issues may take three months or longer to improve, as mentioned above. I would strongly suggest reseeding your gut with healthy bacteria to speed up the healing process. Your best bet is to regularly consume traditionally fermented foods such as fermented vegetables. Alternatively, use a high-quality probiotic supplement.
If you suffer side effects from an artificial sweetener like sucralose (Splenda), then avoidance is your only recourse. You'll need to be very vigilant about reading labels to ensure you're not accidentally buying foods that contain it. Keep in mind that diet foods are not the only products that contain sucralose. A wide variety of "regular" products can also contain it, and sometimes in combination with other artificial sweeteners.
Splenda Is Not a Safe and Healthy Alternative to Sugar
Splenda is made from sugar, but chemically it's more similar to DDT. Mounting research shows there's a veritable laundry list of health concerns associated with it, from destroying your gut health to promoting diabetes and cancer. Truly, you're consuming it at your own risk, as FDA approval is NOT a guarantee of safety... As stated by Sayer Ji:18
"Chlorinated compounds like dioxins and DDT are notorious for being both highly toxic and resistant to breaking down once released into the environment, which is why they are classified as 'persistent organic pollutants.'
Splenda was launched in 2000 with tagline 'Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar,' until it retired this slogan in 2007 after settling with its rival, Merisant Co., the maker of Equal, who accused the makers of Splenda of intentionally confusing consumers into thinking its product was more natural and healthier than other artificial sweeteners. Long gone are the days that this artificial sweetener can be marketed as natural, safe and a healthy alternative to sugar."
My strong suggestion is to avoid ALL artificial sweeteners like the plague. While the mechanisms of harm may differ, they're all harmful in one way or another. This includes aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet'N Low), acesulfame potassium, neotame, and others. To learn more about sugar alternatives, including the best and worst of the bunch, please review my previous article, "Sugar Substitutes—What's Safe and What's Not."