A new study recently published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health has the chairman of Citizens for health in the U.S. up in arms over a recent study and the FDA’s failure to revoke its approval of the artificial sweetener sucralose, marketed under the name “Splenda”.
Splenda’s slogan is “Splenda tastes like sugar, because it’s made from sugar”. The company faced scrutiny for this slogan, as the product is actually mainly chemically derived. Sucralose is a high-potency sweetener, combined with maltodextrin and glucose (that’s the sugar part) as fillers to make Splenda. Splenda is approved for use in Canada and the U.S. and was originally thought to have no real side effects in the body, as the majority of it is not metabolized or absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. This is the premise of most sweeteners.
This new study looked at the effects of sucralose on gut bacteria (good bacteria) and pH balance. For 12 weeks researchers fed rats amounts of sucralose that were well within the FDA’s approved limit in the food supply, and found adverse effects. After 12 weeks, half of the rats were given 12 weeks of “recovery time”.
The results indicated that after only 12 weeks, the number of beneficial gut bacteria were reduced, gut pH was increased and expression of certain compounds in the body, which are known to reduce the absorption of some drugs and nutrients (P-glycoprotein and Cytochrome P-450) were increased.
Perhaps the most ironic result was that body weight among rats, even at the lowest doses of Splenda, increased compared to the control group and continued to increase even after recovery time. The researchers suggest that there may be a type of bodyweight dysregulation occurring after continued intake.
So what does this all mean? Well, if you’re taking Splenda to lose weight, this most recent evidence suggests it may be working against you. Secondly, good gut bacteria (microflora) carry out a number of important roles, including fighting off bad bacteria and producing vitamins, and maintaining normal immune system function. A reduction in these helpful microbes may have an affect on medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer.
Although I’m an advocate of natural foods and sweeteners, I don’t believe that all man-made food products are bad for you, but there is one major disadvantage and that is that these products are new. It takes years and years before we will ever know the long term effects of these products. And unfortunately, if the first few studies conducted come back pointing to no major adverse effects, we consumers become the next line of guinea pigs. I think consumers have the false comfort that anything approved by the FDA or CFIA is safe, but it’s just not so. I believe the government generally tries to protect us from potentially harmful products (after all, they don’t want to pay for our health care if we end up sick), but the bottom line is that they can’t protect us from things that haven’t emerged yet.
As for Splenda, – well, if I need something sweet, I’m reaching for good old sugar or honey.