Artificial sweeteners are incredibly popular in the U.S., with consumption jumping by 54 percent among adults and 200 percent among children from 1999 to 2012. 1 This means more than 41 percent of adults — and 25 percent of children — are consuming such sweeteners, which include sucralose, brand name Splenda.
Almost always, the motivation for consuming artificial sweeteners is that they're believed by many to be healthier than sugar, or at least to represent the lesser of two evils. In reality, while sugar is easily one of the worst offenders to human health, artificial sweeteners are even worse. But they've earned a reputation for being healthy because of carefully orchestrated PR campaigns created by their makers.
Sucralose, which is manufactured and sold by companies such as Tate & Lyle PLC and Coca-Cola Co., is no exception. With a "sweeten smarter" tagline and claim that it's "safe, sweet and tested," Splenda's website is geared toward letting consumers know why they should "choose Sucralose sweeteners over sugar." 2
One of sucralose's key marketing claims has long been that it neither metabolizes nor bioaccumulates in the human body, thus making it a basically inert substance. But recent studies have suggested otherwise, which is why the consumer group U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate.
Study Suggests Sucralose Is Metabolized and Bioaccumulates
In a letter to the FTC, USRTK asked the FTC to investigate whether some of sucralose's marketing claims are deceptive. 3 "[S]ucralose is being advertised and marketed as not metabolized or bioaccumulated by humans. The claim may well be deceptive … given research suggesting that sucralose metabolizes and bioaccumulates in rats, and perhaps it does so in humans as well," the letter reads.
The research referred to is a study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 4 which aimed to determine if sucralose, an organochlorine artificial sweetener, is metabolized in rat intestines as well as whether it bioaccumulates in rats' fat tissue. To find out, researchers gave 10 rats sucralose daily for 40 days.
They received a dose of 80.4 mg/kg/day, an amount within the range used by toxicology studies submitted for regulatory approval. During the study period, the rats' urine and feces were tested and found to contain acetylated forms of sucralose, specifically two sucralose metabolites that had not previously been reported. The finding suggests that sucralose is, in fact, metabolized. According to the study: 5
"These metabolites were present in urine and feces throughout the sucralose dosing period and still detected at low levels in the urine 11 days after discontinuation of sucralose administration and six days after sucralose was no longer detected in the urine or feces.
The finding of acetylated sucralose metabolites in urine and feces do not support early metabolism studies, on which regulatory approval was based, that claimed ingested sucralose is excreted unchanged (i.e., not metabolized)."
What's more, even though sucralose had disappeared from urine and feces two weeks after the administration stopped, it was still detected in fat tissue. "Thus, depuration of sucralose which accumulated in fatty tissue requires an extended period of time after discontinuation of chemical ingestion," the researchers explained, adding: 6
"These new findings of metabolism of sucralose in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and its accumulation in adipose tissue were not part of the original regulatory decision process for this agent and indicate that it now may be time to revisit the safety and regulatory status of this organochlorine artificial sweetener."
Is Sucralose Deceiving Consumers With False Advertising?
Sucralose is found in thousands of low-calorie foods and beverages worldwide, and in the U.S. has the largest market share for artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. 7 It first gained regulatory approval in Canada in 1991, with approval in the U.S. occurring in 1998.
The U.S. approval was based on early studies that suggested the majority of sucralose was not absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract but instead was excreted in the feces. As mentioned, this was also a major part of sucralose's PR campaign in convincing the U.S. public that this unnatural sweetener is safe.
But as noted by the featured study, "The conclusions of the published data, from both rats and humans that ingested sucralose is excreted unchanged (i.e., not metabolized) appear to be premature." 8
Indeed, Gary Ruskin, codirector of USRTK, said in a news release, "Are food companies deceiving consumers by telling them that sucralose doesn't metabolize or bioaccumulate? That's what we're asking the Federal Trade Commission to figure out." 9
"Tate & Lyle's website sucralose.com states that 'SPLENDA® Sucralose is not recognized by the body as a carbohydrate and is not metabolized by the body.' Coca-Cola's website claims that 'The small amount of sucralose that is absorbed is not metabolized, but is rapidly eliminated in urine as sucralose. Sucralose does not accumulate in the body,'" Ruskin said. "These statements and others appear to be contradicted by the study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health." 10
It remains to be seen whether the FTC will investigate sucralose's potential deceptive marketing, or whether lawsuits will emerge as a result, but it's clear that additional safety testing is needed.
This is particularly true since the dose used in the study (80.4 mg/kg/day) is sixteenfold greater than the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 5 mg/kg/day set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and 5.3 times higher than the ADI of 15 mg/kg/day approved in the European Union, the study noted. What's more, their findings suggest the safe level of intake may actually be lower than what health agencies have set: 11
"If one were to apply a 100-fold safety factor to the biological effects reported in the present study, that is, metabolism and bioaccumulation at 80.4 mg/kg/day, this would lower the ADI for sucralose to less than 1 mg/kg/day … Data indicate that it may now be time to revisit the regulatory status of sucralose."
Baking With Sucralose Could Be Dangerous
Previous research has also noted that sucralose is not a biologically inert compound, as claimed. In the 2013 paper, the authors state, in part: 12
"Sucralose and one of its hydrolysis products were found to be mutagenic at elevated concentrations in several testing methods … Both human and rodent studies demonstrated that sucralose may alter glucose, insulin and glucagon-like peptide 1 levels. Taken together, these findings indicate that sucralose is not a biologically inert compound."
Sucralose is also heavily advertised as a tool for baking, even being sold in granulated form in large resealable packages and in blends with sugar and brown sugar. Splenda's website also includes a conversion chart to use when swapping sucralose with sugar while cooking and baking. 13
Yet, when heated to high temperatures, as is done during cooking, sucralose generates chloropropanols, which are potentially toxic compounds that belong to a class of toxins known as dioxins, known to cause cancer and endocrine disruption. Even processed foods that contain sucralose are typically subjected to high heat during processing, raising serious health concerns.
Sucralose Damages Your Gut, Poses Risks to Liver and Kidney Health
Another reason to be wary of sucralose has to do with your gut health, which is key to your overall health. Research published in 2008 found sucralose: 14
- Reduces gut bacteria by 50 percent, preferentially targeting bacteria known to have important human health benefits (consuming as few as seven little Splenda packages is enough to have a detrimental effect on your microbiome)
- Increases the pH level in your intestines
- Is absorbed into and accumulates in fat tissue
It's also possible that regularly using sucralose could damage your liver. Research published in the journal Morphologie found sucralose caused "definite changes" in the liver of treated rats, "indicating toxic effects on regular ingestion." According to these researchers, their findings suggest "sucralose should be taken with caution to avoid hepatic damage." 15
Other research in mice found that feeding the animals sucralose beginning prenatally and continuing for their entire life span led to a significant increase in cancerous tumors in male mice, with the risk increasing with increasing dose. 16 Studies have also linked sucralose consumption to:
Genotoxicity (DNA damage) and potentially adverse epigenetic effects. 17 According to this paper, the acceptable daily intake set for sucralose may in fact be hundreds of times too high to ensure safety
Shrinkage of the thymus, up to 40 percent 18
Enlargement of the liver and kidneys 19
Calcification of the kidneys 20
Increased leukocyte populations (immune system cells) in the thymus and lymph nodes 21
Spikes in insulin and glucose. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care confirmed that, compared to controls, obese patients using sucralose experienced a greater incremental increase in peak plasma concentrations of glucose, a greater incremental increase in insulin and peak insulin secretion rate, along with a decrease in insulin clearance. 23
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"
Alterations in P-glycoprotein (P-gp) levels, which could result in medications used in chemotherapy, AIDS treatment and treatments for heart conditions being shunted back into the intestines, rather than being absorbed by your body 24
Safer Sweeteners to Consider
Sucralose manufacturers may be deceiving consumers by claiming the substance is not metabolized and doesn't accumulate in the human body. And if that's the case, research may soon begin to unveil even more adverse effects that come with consuming this artificial sweetener.
This type of dishonesty is the reason why I wrote my book, " Sweet Deception ," in 2006, and it still contains relevant information for those of you wanting to know more about the misconceptions surrounding artificial sweeteners and your health.
If you currently use Splenda or any other artificial sweetener, there are safer substitutes to be had, including stevia and lo han kuo (also spelled luo han guo ). Stevia is a sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant and can be used to sweeten most dishes and drinks.
Please don't confuse pure stevia with Splenda Naturals, a product that combines sugar with stevia leaf extract. Lo han kuo is similar to stevia, but it's a bit more expensive and harder to find. You can also use pure glucose, also known as dextrose. Although it's not as sweet as sugar, it's better for your health because it doesn't contain fructose.
Many people find that once they stop using artificial sweeteners, mysterious health symptoms clear up. You can do a test yourself by removing all sources of sucralose from your diet and noticing if your health improves. The following are common symptoms that have been reported or may be noticed following consumption of a sucralose product: 25 , 26 , 27
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