Editor’s note: This post has been updated since first publication to include a response by Splenda, which claims that Splenda Brand sucralose is not the sucralose analyzed in this study. Further, the company says that the chemical S6A is not found in Splenda, despite the report released by North Carolina State University. We have also updated and clarified our report to note Splenda’s reported discrepancy in our story and headline. Their full response is linked in this post. (07/17/23)
RALEIGH, N.C. — Could a common artificial sweetener damage your DNA? Concerning research by a team at North Carolina State University connects a byproduct of sucralose, a popular zero calorie sweetener and sugar substitute, with the formation of a “genotoxic” chemical in the body — meaning it breaks up DNA. While the FDA notes that sucralose is sold under the brand name Splenda, the company says the brand is not the same product that was studied for this research.
Previous work by the same research team established that several fat-soluble compounds form in the gut after ingesting sucralose. One of those compounds is sucralose-6-acetate, or S6A. Study authors say the chemical is also found in trace amounts in the sweetener.
They believe these findings raise some serious questions regarding how sucralose may contribute to health problems. Per the FDA:
“Our new work establishes that sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic,” says Susan Schiffman, corresponding author of the study in a university release. She serves an adjunct professor in the joint department of biomedical engineering at NC State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“We also found that trace amounts of sucralose-6-acetate can be found in off-the-shelf sucralose, even before it is consumed and metabolized. To put this in context, the European Food Safety Authority has a threshold of toxicological concern for all genotoxic substances of 0.15 micrograms per person per day,” Schiffman continues. “Our work suggests that the trace amounts of sucralose-6-acetate in a single, daily sucralose-sweetened drink exceed that threshold. And that’s not even accounting for the amount of sucralose-6-acetate produced as metabolites after people consume sucralose.”
A spokesperson for Splenda tells StudyFinds: “It is important to know that not all sucralose is Splenda brand sucralose, and Splenda brand sucralose is absolutely safe to consume. Health associations across the globe, including the FDA, have concluded sucralose is safe, based on years of research and a large existing body of peer-reviewed, scientific literature.”
‘It’s something you should not be eating’
To conduct this study, researchers put together a series of in vitro experiments exposing human blood cells to S6A and subsequently monitoring for genotoxicity markers. “In short, we found that sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic, and that it effectively broke up DNA in cells that were exposed to the chemical,” Prof. Schiffman says.
The researchers also conducted in vitro tests exposing human gut tissues to sucralose-6-acetate.
“Other studies have found that sucralose can adversely affect gut health, so we wanted to see what might be happening there,” Prof. Schiffman notes. “When we exposed sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate to gut epithelial tissues – the tissue that lines your gut wall – we found that both chemicals cause ‘leaky gut.’ Basically, they make the wall of the gut more permeable. The chemicals damage the ‘tight junctions,’ or interfaces, where cells in the gut wall connect to each other.”
“A leaky gut is problematic, because it means that things that would normally be flushed out of the body in feces are instead leaking out of the gut and being absorbed into the bloodstream.”
Study authors also assessed the genetic activity of the gut cells in an effort to observe how they responded to the presence of sucralose-6-acetate. “We found that gut cells exposed to sucralose-6-acetate had increased activity in genes related to oxidative stress, inflammation and carcinogenicity,” Prof. Schiffman concludes.
“This work raises a host of concerns about the potential health effects associated with sucralose and its metabolites. It’s time to revisit the safety and regulatory status of sucralose, because the evidence is mounting that it carries significant risks. If nothing else, I encourage people to avoid products containing sucralose. It’s something you should not be eating.”
The study is published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part B.
Response by Splenda
In a corresponding release by Splenda, the company rejects the findings in relation to the brand’s sweetener, emphasizing that S6A “is not present in Splenda Brand products.” In a statement they write:
“The Splenda Brand is aware of the recent study conducted on Sucralose-6-acetate (S6A). Recent news reports covering this study have alleged or implied that the study indicates Splenda® Brand Sweeteners caused poor health effects. That is false. The truth is Splenda is a safe and effective alternative to sugar and is recommended every day by Healthcare Professionals to aid in weight loss and diabetes management. As for this study, no conclusions can or should be drawn about Splenda® Brand Sweeteners from this study for the simple reason that it did not analyze any Splenda® Brand products or ingredients.
“The headlines and media coverage falsely reported that Splenda and its sweetening ingredient sources were a part of this study. They were not. The study did not test Splenda Brand Products nor its ingredients. We are sorry, that you, the consumers we work to serve every day, experienced anxiety, confusion, or uncertainty based on the false reporting surrounding this study.
The statement goes on to add: “The sucralose used in Splenda Brand sweeteners is rigorously and routinely tested for impurities in our products. We can confirm that S6A is not present in Splenda Brand sucralose down to the lowest detection limit possible, which is .001% sensitivity level.”
You might also be interested in:
- 8 Ways Artificial Sweeteners Are Bad For You: Why ‘Sugar-Free’ Isn’t Always Healthier
- Adding Splenda to your drink may prevent Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
- Not so sweet: Artificial sweetener aspartame linked to anxiety
- Artificial sweeteners may cause weight gain, worsen risk of diabetes