Sucralose is a widely used artificial sweetener that has been marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar. It is more commonly known by the brand name of one of the most popular of these sweeteners, Splenda. A recent study has found that a chemical found in sucralose can break up DNA, raising concerns about its safety.
Sucralose Found To Contain A Potentially Genotoxic Chemical
For quite some years, Splenda has been seen as a ‘wonder ingredient‘ for those trying to cut back on sugar intake. Using the chemical sucralose to add a sweet taste without the added sugar, seemed like a great solution. Unfortunately, some research is showing that this might not be the case. A recent study, in fact, showed that Sucralose-6-acetate, an impurity formed during sucralose production, was found to break up DNA strands and cause other types of genetic damage. (1)
We also found that trace amounts of sucralose-6-acetate can be found in off-the-shelf sucralose, even before it is consumed and metabolized,” Susan Schiffman, corresponding author of the study and an adjunct professor in the joint department of biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said in a press release. “To put this in context, the European Food Safety Authority has a threshold of toxicological concern for all genotoxic substances of 0.15 micrograms per person per day. Our work suggests that the trace amounts of sucralose-6-acetate in a single, daily sucralose-sweetened drink exceed that threshold. And that’s not even accounting for the amount of sucralose-6-acetate produced as metabolites after people consume sucralose.(2)
To determine this, the researchers exposed human blood cells to sucralose in a series of in-vitro experiments. Not only did they check for markers of cell damage and genotoxicity, but they also found that it damages gut tissue. This leads to what they call “leaky gut syndrome,” which is when your gut lining becomes more permeable. Instead of toxins and waste products being filtered out through the kidneys, they instead are absorbed into the bloodstream via the stomach.
“We found that gut cells exposed to sucralose-6-acetate had increased activity in genes related to oxidative stress, inflammation and carcinogenicity,” Schiffman says.
The study has raised concerns about the safety of sucralose, which is found in many diet sodas, sugar-free gum, and other products. With many people’s diets consisting of these products on a daily basis, the research team is concerned that it is damaging their health. They are calling for a review of the safety and regulatory measures for these sugar chemicals. At any rate, they suggest you do your best to limit your sucralose intake to as close to zero has you can get it.
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It is important to note that the study has some limitations and that we should not be terrified of sucralose. The study was done in-vitro, not in actual human subjects. This makes it hard to tell if sucralose has the same effect in the human body.
Dr. Joespeh Zundell is a scientist and Cancer Biologist who received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a research scientist who also focuses on science communication through his Instagram account, @DrJoeZundell. He often comments on viral stories related to cancer and nutrition through education, and this story was no different. “The paper was all in vitro research and very weak evidence in the grand scheme of total evidence regarding the dangers of sucralose,” Zundell wrote in a recent Instagram post. “Don’t get me wrong. The paper was interesting and yields important information. What I gather from the paper is that I shouldn’t be consuming so much sucralose that I would chronically exhibit some of the problems mentioned in the paper.” (3)
He goes on to say that the amount of sucralose that one needs to consume to experience these effects is far greater than what people typically consume. He also mentions that other health behaviors counteract the small amount that one might consume in a day.
“People need to understand that living systems are not binary. Even if I chose to consume sucralose sweetened foods I can mitigate the effects it may cause by controlling other aspects of my health which will offset potentially negative health concerns regarding sucralose:
Practice good sleep habits
Eat a nutrient rich/diverse diet” he wrote.
The Bottom Line
Despite these limitations, the study is still important and raises some concerns about the safety of sucralose. However, it is important to note that many other studies have found that sucralose is safe for human consumption. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of sucralose as a food additive, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also declared it safe. (4)
It is also worth noting that sucralose is not the only artificial sweetener that has been found to cause DNA damage. Other sweeteners, such as aspartame, have also been shown to cause genetic damage in studies. However, these sweeteners have also been deemed safe for human consumption by regulatory agencies.
The recent study on sucralose and DNA damage raises some concerns about the safety of the sweetener. However, it is important to keep in mind the limitations of the study and the fact that many other studies have found sucralose to be safe. While it is always important to be cautious when it comes to our health, we should not be terrified of consuming sucralose in moderation.
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- “Toxicological and pharmacokinetic properties of sucralose-6-acetate and its parent sucralose: in vitro screening assays.” T and F Online. Susan Schiffman, et al. May 29, 2023.
- “Chemical Found in Common Sweetener Damages DNA.” NCSU. Matt Shipman. May 31, 2023
- Instagram. dr.joezundell
- “Review and synthesis of data on the potential environmental impact of artificial sweeteners.” EFSA Europa. October 2021.