My Two Cents on Splenda® (Sucarlose) and Other Artificial Sweeteners

white granulated sugar and refined sugar on a gray background

Articles, Views | July 7, 2016 | By

white granulated sugar and refined sugar on a gray background

Splenda®, or sucralose, is a well-known FDA-approved artificial sweetener which made its way into the market back in the late 1990’s.  Along with its counterparts including saccharin, aspartame (now labeled as “amino sweet”), and a handful of other artificial sweeteners, Splenda® has been hit with a lot of controversy. 

Unfortunately in the world of health, not everything is black and white, right or wrong.  Health professionals of all kinds don’t always see eye-to-eye across the board when it comes to what we’re putting (or not putting) in our bodies, because research findings can be easily skewed, inconsistent, and/or misleading. 

Disclaimer:  I have chosen to share these findings to help educate the general public on some important information that we have not been told up-front by various powers that be.  Please use this blog post for informational purposes, but ALWAYS consult a licensed health professional individually if you have any type of medical condition!

So, what is Splenda®?

Chemically speaking…

The chemical structure of sucralose is nearly identical to that of table sugar (sucrose).  The only chemical difference between the two molecules  is three chlorine atoms (1, 2). 

Sucralose is categorized as a C3 chlorocarbon, because three hydrogen atoms from the original molecule (table sugar) have been replaced with three chlorine atoms (3).  Other examples of chlorocarbons include chloromethane, trichloromethane, and trichloroethylene which are frequently used in a variety of cleaning and de-greasing products (3, 4).

Biologically speaking…

The sensory impact of that one chemical change is a substance that our taste buds perceive to be 600x sweeter than regular table sugar (1, 2).  However, since Splenda® can’t convert to glucose (blood sugar), this also means it doesn’t get broken down and metabolized into energy (2). 

Many people, especially those with diabetes, choose to use artificial sweeteners in place of regular sugar, with the intention to have better controlled blood sugar levels.  However, as stated by the International Food Information Council Foundation:

“According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and American Heart Association (AHA) 2013 joint scientific statement, four randomized control trials (the gold standard in scientific research) found no significant difference in the effects of low-calorie sweeteners on standard measures of glycemic response compared to other sweeteners” (2). 

If an artificial sweetener contains virtually almost no carbohydrates, but there is no true difference in its impact on our glycemic response, is it really beneficial for somebody with diabetes to choose artificial sweeteners over natural sugar?

Does Splenda® make its way into our blood? 

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, sucralose is “poorly absorbed” and they even go so far as to say that Splenda® gets excreted unchanged from the body (2). 

There are many published studies promoting the use of Splenda® and other artificial sweeteners for their proven effects on weight loss.  For example, a 2013 study found that people who drink two diet beverages instead of two sugar-sweetened drinks every day enjoyed a “healthy change in their overall food preferences and calorie intake” (2). 

However, you might want to consider these additional studies on sucralose which do not get as much public attention:

Splenda® and gut health

  • A Duke University study on Splenda® from 2008 found that daily intake of Splenda®, in amounts 4-5x lower than the U.S. FDA Acceptable Daily Intake levels, for 12 weeks straight, resulted in a decrease in beneficial fecal microbes including bifidobacteria (5).
  • Splenda® consumed for 12 weeks straight was shown to increase fecal pH (5). A study from 2012 concluded that in critically ill patients, high fecal pH left unaddressed is associated with higher mortality rates (6).  Generally speaking, increased fecal pH over the long-term is related to impaired stomach acid production which can allow “pathogenic” (bad) bacteria to grow in our digestive tract and damage our gut lining if left unaddressed (6).

Splenda® and pediatric weight management

  • “The majority of pediatric epidemiologic studies have found a positive correlation between weight gain and artificially-sweetened beverage intake… to date, only one observational study has shown an inverse association between artificial sweetener use and weight gain” (7).
  • A cross-sectional study in U.S. children ages 6-19 years old found consumption of artificially sweetened beverages to be associated with weight gain and higher BMI (8).

Splenda® and insulin response

  • Sucralose is the most studied artificial sweetener shown to cause increases in hormones which stimulate our body to make more insulin (9). Insulin is an anabolic hormone which is responsible for decreasing our blood sugar, but also for causing our body to store extra calories as body weight (mostly in the abdomen).
  • A 2013 study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that people who drank a Splenda®-sweetened beverage (compared to water) had a 20% higher insulin response and a significant increase in blood sugar.

Splenda® and cancer

  • I’ve only found one study that found sucralose could be a carcinogen (cancer causing agent), although it’s been criticized and labeled as very controversial.  This study took ten groups of mice and gave them extremely large doses of sucralose (well past the “safe” limit established by the FDA) over their entire lifetime and found that these doses caused the mice to develop cancer.  Although it’s not realistic that humans would consume the amount of sucralose it took to give these animals cancer, I think there should be more studies done over longer periods of time beyond twenty years, rather than waiting for our current generation be the first to find out over the next coming decades.

Some additional points to consider:

  • Although we all need some insulin in order to keep our blood sugars under control, it has been hypothesized that having too much insulin in our blood compared to what we need at one time can contribute to insulin resistance (or type 2 diabetes) if left unaddressed.
  • If we truly don’t absorb sucralose and it gets excreted from the body, why is sucralose increasing our blood sugar and insulin levels in some research studies?
  • Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda® might not be a good choice for people with any digestive issues.

To read more about studies revealing some potential negative health impacts of sucralose, click here.

 

Disclaimer:  I have chosen to share these findings to help educate the general public on some important information that we have not been told up-front by various powers that be.  Please use this blog post for informational purposes, but ALWAYS consult a licensed health professional individually if you have any type of medical condition!

References: 

  1. Brown, R. J., DeBanate, M. A., & Rother, K. I. (2010, August). Artificial Sweeteners: A systematic review of metabolic effects in youth. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951976/table/T1/ 
  2. International Food Information Council. (2014, September). FACTS ABOUT LOW-CALORIE SWEETENERS. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.foodinsight.org/sites/default/files/Facts about Low Calorie Sweeteners.pdf
  3. What Are Chlorocarbons? (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.jahcs.org/english/Chloro1.htm 
  4. General Properties of Chlorocarbons. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.jahcs.org/english/Chloro2.htm
  5. Donia, A., Masry, E., & Rahman, A. (2008). Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18800291 
  6. Osuka, A., Shimizu, K., Ogura, H., Tasaki, O., Hamasaki, T., Asahara, T., . . . Shimazu, T. (2012, July). Prognostic impact of fecal pH in critically ill patients. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3580696/
  7. Brown, R. J., Banate, M. A., & Rother, K. I. (2010, August). Artificial Sweeteners: A systematic review of metabolic effects in youth. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951976/
  8. Forshee, R. A., & Storey, M. L. (2003, July). Total beverage consumption and beverage choices among children and adolescents. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12850891
  9. Spencer, M., Gupta, A., Dam, L. V., Shannon, C., Menees, S., & Chey, W. D. (2016, April). Artificial Sweeteners: A Systematic Review and Primer for Gastroenterologists. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4819855/

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