- New research shows that a chemical found in Splenda, sucralose-6-acetate, is genotoxic, causing DNA damage.
- The findings show that sucralose-6-acetate is harmful to gut health and can lead to oxidative stress, inflammation and even cancer.
- When choosing sugar substitutes, stevia or monk fruit may be considered healthier options.
Many people are turning to artificial sugar substitutes to reduce their calorie intake, but a growing body of evidence shows the potential health risks associated with these substances.
Now, a new study has found that a chemical, sucralose-6-acetate, found in sucralose (sold under the trade name Splenda) causes DNA damage.
Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill determined that the chemical is genotoxic, meaning it damages the genetic information inside cells. They also exposed human intestinal tissue to sucralose to examine the effects on gut health and carcinogenic potential.
The results were recently published in Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health.
Susan Schiffman, PhD, study correspondent author and adjunct professor in the joint department of biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Medical News Today:
The most compelling finding was that a sucralose contaminant and metabolite could damage DNA in human blood cells and express genes in the human intestinal epithelium that can induce inflammation and even cancer.
For the study, the researchers exposed human blood cells to sucralose-6-acetate in several in vitro experiments. The results showed signs of genotoxicity.
The researchers also found that sucralose caused intestinal leakage or damage to the intestinal lining. Furthermore, they looked at the genetic activity of intestinal cells and found that sucralose caused an increase in gene activity linked to oxidative stress, inflammation and carcinogenicity.
The findings support growing evidence of harmful effects of artificial sweeteners, such as an increased risk of
For many years, artificial sweeteners have already been suspected of having carcinogenic effects, said Dr. Danielle Leonardo, a certified internal medicine and medical oncology specialist in Calabarzon, Philippines, who was not involved in the research. MNT extension.
This [study] is another push towards the confirmation of this hypothesis. I believe we have already established the research foundation for the theory and the preliminary data is already there, added Dr. Leonardo.
While the findings are cause for concern, it’s not clear how sucralose might impact health on a larger scale. Therefore, more research on the effects of sucrose-6-acetate is still needed, particularly in human studies.
We are limited by the fact that these are only in vitro (test tube) and animal studies and therefore we are still a long way off before discovering its applicability in human patients, explained Dr. Leonardo.
This was said by Dr. John Damianos, a hospital resident at the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research MNT extension that the paper studied sucralose-6-acetate in isolation.
While this compound is an intermediate of sucralose (comprising up to 0.67 percent sucralose) and metabolite, it doesn’t make up the majority of ingested sucralose, and it’s uncertain how much is made in the human gut, he noted.
Dr. Damianos added that the findings raise potentially troubling findings that warrant further study, but they do not reflect virtually what the occasional or even frequent ingestion of sucralose-sweetened foods and drinks has on your health.
According to Dr. Schiffman, the next steps in the research will look at the biological impact of sucralose when combined with acesulfame-K, another artificial sweetener that often accompanies sucralose in food products.
Future sucralose research could also include population-based studies, which could deepen scientists’ understanding of the connection between sucralose-6-acetate and cancer.
Population-based studies on the cancer risk of sucralose-6-acetate could be considered in the future. But it will be difficult to establish a direct cause and effect relationship between sucralose-6-acetate and cancer due to the multifactorial dimension of cancer. However, these data already suggest that the public is being more careful about taking these artificial sweeteners and switching to other, safer alternatives.
Dr. Danielle Leonardo, specialist in internal medicine and medical oncology
If you’re wondering whether it’s better to consume small amounts of refined sugar rather than excessive amounts of artificial sugar, it may ultimately come down to how much of it you consume.
However, health experts have warned that 10 teaspoons of sugar a day may still be too much. The American Heart Association (AHA), for example,
We know that excess refined sugar is associated with a myriad of adverse health effects, said Dr. Damianos. Data is also accumulating that some artificial sweeteners can be harmful as well.
For overall health, experts recommend adhering to a healthy eating pattern that emphasizes whole foods and limits processed foods and foods high in sugar.
Dr. Damianos said a balanced diet is consistently associated with better health outcomes.
Experts recommend avoiding added sugars as much as possible, which can include natural sugars like honey or agave.
When choosing sugar substitutes, you might opt for stevia or monk fruit over artificial sweeteners, but it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first, particularly if you have a health condition like diabetes.
Naturally occurring sugar substitutes that aren’t created in labs are considered healthier alternatives, said Dr. Leonardo.
Considering the risks of refined sugar, Dr. Damianos said he encourages his patients to consider healthier alternatives with low or no sugar.
Instead of soda or diet soda, switch to seltzer water, Dr. Damianos recommended.
Instead of highly processed foods and beverages to satisfy that sweet tooth, reach for fruits with their natural sugars paired with an abundance of health-promoting fiber and phytonutrients, she added.
Date Sugar and Yacon Syrup are unique sugar alternatives that have a lower glycemic index than sugar, can provide health benefits and make great baking. Coconut sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, and agave are commonly used but can still raise blood sugar, so they should be used sparingly. I also encourage patients to consider the entirety of the diet, with an emphasis on increasing dietary fiber and healthy fats, which cushion the insulin spike.
Dr. John Damianos, Yale School of Medicine
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