The artificial sweetener sucralose (sold as Splenda) is widely used and found in products such as soda and chewing gum. According to new research, it can also damage the DNA inside our cells.
As DNA contains the genetic code that controls how our bodies are developed and maintained, it is a major problem that can lead to many health problems.
The researchers’ concerns are so important, they are now calling on food agencies to review the safety and control of the sugar substitute.
The technical term for something that breaks DNA like this is genotoxic, and this study focused specifically on sucralose-6-acetate: this drug is produced when sucralose is ingested and converted into the body, as reported in a 2018 study on rats.
“To say this, the European Food Safety Authority has a toxicological risk for all genotoxic substances of 0.15 micrograms per person per day,” says medical expert Susan Schiffman of North Carolina State University.
“Our work shows that the amount of sucralose-6-acetate in one daily sucralose-sweetened beverage exceeds that limit. And this does not even include the amount of sucralose-6-acetate produced as metabolites after people consume sucralose.”
In other words, sucralose-6-acetate is already present in these drinks before they are consumed, but most of it is made in our stomach. Sucralose is made from a synthetic form of sucralose-6-acetate, which is made from the sugar sucrose.
In this study, the researchers performed several lab tests on human blood cells and intestinal wall tissue to see what happened to sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate. Tests were also carried out on what happens in the intestinal cells, both using analytical methods to detect DNA damage.
These tests confirmed processes that were genotoxic and clastogenic (broken strands of DNA), and showed increased expression of genes associated with inflammation, oxidative stress, and cancer. In addition, the intestines were also damaged.
“[W]e found that all products [sucrose and sucralose-6-acetate] because of ‘leaky gut’,” says Schiffman.
“Essentially, they make the intestinal wall more permeable. These drugs destroy the ‘tight junctions’, which connect the intestinal cells.”
A leaky gut means that partially digested food and toxins can enter the bloodstream. The disease can occur in many ways, and can affect different parts of the body.
The researchers who conducted the new study warn that people should stop drinking sucralose and eat anything that contains it. In the past, regulatory approval was given to the sweetener based on research showing that it passed through the body unchanged – findings that are now being challenged by recent studies.
The authority’s approval is subject to further review. Further research could look more closely at the potential health risks of sucralose-6-acetate, the researchers suggest.
“This work raises many concerns about the potential health effects of sucralose and its metabolites,” says Schiffman.
“It is time to reconsider the safety and control of sucralose, as the evidence is mounting that it has significant risks.”
Research has been published in Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B.