A new study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, suggests that a chemical found in the sweetener Splenda, sucralose, may damage DNA and lead to a leaky gut lining. The study found that certain gut bacteria can transform sucralose into a similar molecule called sucralose-6-acetate, which is also found in small amounts in some commercial sucralose products as a byproduct of the manufacturing process. The researchers exposed human blood cells to sucralose-6-acetate and found that it caused breaks in DNA, which could potentially increase the risk of cancer or other health problems. The study also found that sucralose-6-acetate increased the activation of genes associated with inflammation, oxidative stress, and cancer and damaged the junctions that hold together the cells that line the human intestines, causing the gut to become leaky. The authors of the study called for a new regulatory review of the health effects of sucralose in food products.
Sucralose, known in the United States by the brand name Splenda, is used in thousands of products, including baked goods, beverages, chewing gum, gelatins, and frozen dairy desserts. The World Health Organization recently recommended against using certain sugar substitutes to help lose weight, saying there is little evidence of long-term benefit. 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, the authors of the study point out that regulatory approval of sucralose is based on studies that assume that it passes through the body unchanged, and testing done during manufacturing would not account for sucralose-6-acetate created by gut bacteria from sucralose.
Registered dietitians recommend using artificial sweeteners in moderation, if at all, and suggest using stevia or monk fruit sweeteners as alternatives. Some stevia products contain the artificial sweetener erythritol, which has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Erythritol and other sugar alcohols such as mannitol and xylitol can also cause excess gas and bloating in people with sensitive intestines. Another option is to use fresh leaves from the stevia plant, which, like other herbs, can be grown in your backyard garden or even in your home. Ultimately, small amounts of sugar substitutes are fine, but in excess, they may negatively impact other areas of the body, and they should not be treated as something to consume limitlessly just to get a sweet fix.