A recent study conducted by North Carolina State University researchers has found that a common artificial sweetener, sucralose, sold under the brand name Splenda, may cause DNA damage. The zero-calorie sweetener is known to be about 600 times sweeter than table sugar and is used in thousands of products, including baked goods, beverages, chewing gum, gelatins, and frozen dairy desserts. The study found that sucralose may lead to a leaky gut lining and increase the activity of genes related to inflammation and cancer.
According to the authors of the study, the findings raise health and safety concerns regarding the continued presence of sucralose in the food supply. Although regulatory approval of sucralose is based on studies that assume it passes through the body unchanged, the researchers pointed to earlier research showing that certain gut bacteria can transform sucralose into a similar molecule called sucralose-6-acetate. This compound is also found in small amounts in some commercial sucralose products, and it is a byproduct of the manufacturing process.
When exposed to human blood cells, sucralose-6-acetate in the study caused breaks in DNA, potentially increasing the risk of cancer or other health problems. In addition, the new study found that sucralose-6-acetate, and sucralose itself, damaged the junctions that hold together the cells that line the human intestines, causing the gut to become leaky, which might allow gut microbes and molecules to move from the gut into the body.
A spokesperson for the International Sweetener Association emphasized that the safety of sucralose has been confirmed by global food safety and regulatory bodies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority. However, given the results of the new study and other recent research, the authors of the paper called for a new regulatory review of the health effects of sucralose in food products.
Registered dietitians at the Ellison Clinic and Top Nutrition Coaching recommend using artificial sweeteners in moderation, if at all, and suggest using stevia or monk fruit sweeteners as alternatives. They also recommend shifting the diet away from overly sweet foods to improve overall health.