While we know that excess sugar in the diet contributes to a multitude of health risks, we as a society still long for that sweet taste in our foods. For that reason, the industry of artificial sweeteners has bloomed to fill that longing with the taste without the calories. If sweetness were the only criteria, the industry has given us a number of options. However, we also need to be sure that the solution/substitute is not worse than the problem. Prior research indicated that other artificial sweeteners like aspartame had issues, but this research brings down another favorite: sucralose, also known as Splenda.
As with many great ideas, reality in the end does not always match the hype at the beginning. Hailed as a wonderful answer to the need for decreased sugar intake without the loss of taste, sucralose grew into quite an industry. Recent research finding published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health could dampen that enthusiasm.
While sucralose overall seems safer than many other artificial ingredients listed in the vast array of processed foods we consume, a by-product of sucralose along for the ride appears to have a cancer risk and risk for other inflammatory damage in our bodies. Sucralose-6-acetate, when tested on human blood cells, showed indications of genotoxicity, meaning it caused DNA damage. They also found that it caused increases in gut permeability, what we call leaky gut. When they examined what genes were increased in activity after sucralose exposure, they found that genes associated with oxidative stress, inflammation, and cancer were activated. All of these are bad news for us.
In the commentary by Medical News Today, other researchers not involved in the study echoed the need for further research in humans. While the sucralose-6-acetate normally only makes up about 0.67% of commercial sucralose, the potential for widespread harm is concerning to the commentators. They also called for research into the combination of acesulfame-K with sucralose, as they are often sold together.
Until further research becomes available, living a healthier, more abundant life requires limiting overall sugar intake and consideration of potentially safer natural sugar substitutes. Calling the others “natural” does not guarantee safe, but for now I would at least avoid sucralose.
Susan S. Schiffman, Elizabeth H. Scholl, Terrence S. Furey & H. Troy Nagle (2023) Toxicological and pharmacokinetic properties of sucralose-6-acetate and its parent sucralose: in vitro screening assays, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, DOI: 10.1080/10937404.2023.2213903
Thanks to Medical News Today:
Vogel, Kaitlin. A chemical found in common artificial sweetener may cause DNA damage, cancer. Medical News Today online. June 12, 2023. Accessed June 14, 2023. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/a-chemical-found-in-common-artificial-sweetener-may-cause-dna-damage-cancer
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