While millions around the world consume foods and beverages sweetened with Splenda (sucralose) with abandon, an accumulating body of research indicates that this synthetic chemical is far from safe, may contribute to obesity and blood sugar disorders, and more recently has even been linked to leukemia in animal experiments.
For several years now, Greenmedinfo (GMI) has consolidated scientific study abstracts from the National Library of Medicine about Splenda (sucralose) and its potential health related effects. Two articles citing the most compelling research are The Bitter Truth about Splenda and Splenda (Sucralose) Found to have Diabetes Promoting Effects, both by GMI's founder, Sayer Ji. The former refers to its xenobiotic nature, i.e. its metabolically foreign chemical properties, 1 and provides evidence that when the sensation of sweetness is disassociated from 'food,' i.e. a source of calories or nutrition, it is either unrecognizable by the body, or disrupts the body neuroendocrine system in an adverse manner. 2
The latter article focuses on the potential sucralose has to promote diabetic and /or pre-diabetic disease processes within the human body. The results delineated in the study point to just a single dose of sucralose resulting in increases in blood sugar concentration, increases in insulin levels and decreases in insulin sensitivity, all of which are possible pre-cursors to diabetes. 3
The study came to the attention of a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson, who submitted a rebuttal letter to our founder. View it here.
On the surface, the J&J rebuttal reasonably addresses the points of view expressed in these articles. However, on further analysis, it is clear that several of its criticisms are superficial: namely, that the study did not test subjects with diabetes (even though the sucralose ingestion is clearly attributed to an increase in blood glucose levels and insulin secretion in subjects) and second, the methodology of the study which, Thomas notes, was 'small.. and was not backed by scientific collective data' 4
On May 30 the Daily Mail published an article online with the headline "Could artificial sweetener CAUSE diabetes? Splenda 'modifies way the body handles sugar', increasing insulin production by 20%" which represents a view in direct opposition to J&J's refutation. There were a number of methods in this study which were markedly different from other similar studies on the effects of Splenda. For example, the study used subjects who were clinically obese with the rationale that artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, are often prescribed to overweight individuals. In this study, which was published in the Journal Diabetes Care, all subjects were tested over two visits. If, during one visit a subject was given water to drink before being given glucose water, during the other he or she was given sucralose dissolved in water before drinking the glucose. Participants who drank sucralose prior to consuming glucose saw a 20% higher increase in insulin levels. Over time, this could lead to insulin resistance. Moreover, in many studies on the effects of artificial sweeteners, the sweetener is given to study participants by itself. In fact, notes, Yanina Pepino, the research assistant & professor of medicine at the Washington School of Medicine who lead the study, artificial sweeteners are rarely consumed on their own. They are usually used to sweeten other foods. So, she concludes, their effect in combination with other foods is significant. 'Our results indicate that this artificial sweetener is not inert - it does have an effect,' said Pepino.
More recently, on June 12th, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPINET), decided to downgrade Splenda's safety rating in its Chemical Cuisine guide to food additives. According to the CSPINET's website:
"The nonprofit food safety watchdog group had long rated sucralose as "safe," but is now placing it in the "caution" category pending a review of an unpublished study by an independent Italian laboratory that found that the sweetener caused leukemia in mice. The only previous long-term feeding studies in animals were conducted by the compound's manufacturers."The CSPINET's Chemical Cuisine page on sucralose elaborated on the leukemia link:
"...what might be the greatest cause for concern, in 2012 an independent Italian laboratory announced (but has not yet published) a study that found that sucralose caused leukemia in mice that were exposed from before birth. That was the same lab that several years earlier published studies indicating that aspartame caused cancers in rats and mice."Any argument can be made or destroyed by the deftness with which relevant statistics are highlighted or diluted - whatever the case may be. Certainly, it is true that a study is only as strong as its statistical integrity, its field process, the objectivity of the funding and regulating bodies and its relevance. Relying solely on the circumferential, however, may serve merely to distract readers toward what they may already - albeit unconsciously - believe or want to believe. If that is true then neither manipulating statistics nor journalistic smoke and mirrors will do anything to truly educate or inform and certainly won't change anyone's mind. Perhaps the only way to begin is with unassailable truths. Let's do that.
- Undisputed fact #1: "Sucralose/Splenda is produced through artificially substituting three hydroxyl groups (hydrogen + oxygen) with three chlorine atoms in the sugar (sucrose) molecule."
- Undisputed fact #2: the above chemical process renders sucralose a synthetic chlorocarbon.
- Undisputed #3 many pesticides, disinfectants and Chlorox Bleach are also contain or are composed of synthetic chlorocarbons.
Let's assume for a moment that none of the unassailable facts about sucralose listed above are compelling enough - individually or taken together - to dissuade its use by many. We can move on to the question of whether or not it is beneficial. After all, if we return the argument to its most lucid layer, aren't we just fighting for the general acceptance of a substitute for something we don't even need in its original rendition? Do we really need to analyze this alternative sweetener when the thing for which it provides an alternative (sugar) is, itself, superfluous at best. (At worst, it encourages inflammation, cancer and blood dysfuntion. For the sake of argument, however, we can consider it innocuous). In the same way that make-up is neither necessary to human function nor universally employed, sugar is highly recognized as toxic and avoided by many. So, developing and selling permanent make-up products in order to provide a more convenient alternative to an already unnecessary commodity, is akin to what we are doing with sucralose. It seems shallow and exhaustive to focus on the 'permanent make-up' when we should be asking ourselves why we are so desperately reliant on the make-up in the first place.
During the period in pre-history when we were grass-eaters, hunters and gatherers and the period during which our metabolic infrastructure was allegedly established, our sweet tooth was satisfied with fruit, honey, and of course, the first sweet taste of nourishment, which is lactose-rich breast milk. We should examine our extreme need for sweetness in a concentrated, supplemental form and spend research dollars and time figuring out how we got here and back pedal ourselves out. We need to rinse our faces clean and find the natural blush in the apple of our cheeks and get our sugar high from our apples.
About the author
Tania is a mother, chef, teacher and writer. She is the co-founder of EATomology: An Edible Philosophy of Food and co-presents 'Edible Education' Experiences with Sayer Ji, Greenmedinfo.com founder. The EATomology cookbook, food philosophy, and food as medicine guide they are co-authoring is currently in progress. Tania's writing has appeared online and in Natural Awakenings Magazine. Learn more about Tania and her work here.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
1. Despite the intended insinuation, sucralose is not a form of sucrose (cane sugar). Sucralose/Splenda is produced through artificially substituting three hydroxyl groups (hydrogen + oxygen) with three chlorine atoms in the sugar (sucrose) molecule. Natural sugar is a hydrocarbon built around 12 carbon atoms. When transformed into Splenda it becomes a chlorocarbon, in the same family as deadly pesticides like DDT, insecticides, biocides, disinfectants like Chlorox Bleach, and WWI poison gas like dichlorourea
2. When one uncouples the experience of "sweetness" from caloric content, the body becomes confused because it does not receive nourishment and therefore will not attain satiety - this, in turn, leads to overindulgence. Indeed, new studies have shown exactly this: those who consume synthetic sweeteners are more prone to obesity. What this means is that when we ingest something sweet, it should also have caloric and nutritional content. Anything less than this equation is a recipe for failure and ill health.
3. We evaluated the acute effects of sucralose ingestion on the metabolic response to an oral glucose load in obese subjects.RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODSSeventeen obese subjects (BMI 42.3 ± 1.6 kg/m(2)) who did not use NNS and were insulin sensitive (based on a homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance score ≤2.6) underwent a 5-h modified oral glucose tolerance test on two separate occasions preceded by consuming either sucralose (experimental condition) or water (control condition) 10 min before the glucose load in a randomized crossover design. Indices of β-cell function, insulin sensitivity (SI), and insulin clearance rates were estimated by using minimal models of glucose, insulin, and C-peptide kinetics. RESULTSCompared with the control condition, sucralose ingestion caused 1) a greater incremental increase in peak plasma glucose concentrations (4.2 ± 0.2 vs. 4.8 ± 0.3 mmol/L; P = 0.03), 2) a 20 ± 8% greater incremental increase in insulin area under the curve (AUC) (P < 0.03), 3) a 22 ± 7% greater peak insulin secretion rate (P < 0.02), 4) a 7 ± 4% decrease in insulin clearance (P = 0.04), and 5) a 23 ± 20% decrease in SI (P = 0.01). (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/23633524/
4."This study did not involve people with diabetes. Importantly, the study was a small study that is not backed by the collective scientific data. Clinical studies in people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and non-diabetic people have shown that SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener (sucralose) does not affect blood glucose levels, insulin, or HbA1c."