Can Splenda damage our DNA?

By June 22, 2023 Health, Lifestyle

Several recent articles and viral posts on social media this past week have reported on the newly discovered dangers of Splenda. Specifically, the dangerous substance is sucralose – a zero-calorie, manmade artificial sweetener. Splenda is one of the most well-known sucralose-based products, although sucralose can also be found in a wide range of other products – from candy, to yoghurt, to coffee pods and even Diet Coke.

The main claim is that sucralose produces a compound that, when digested, can cause genotoxicity (where DNA cells are broken up, potentially leading to cancer-causing mutations) and “leaky-gut.”

While some see this news as a cue to avoid any products containing sucralose, others have questioned the research labelled claims as “fearmongering.”

A study published on 29 May is the main source of information. Published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, its findings reflect “adverse biological impacts attributed to the exposure to sucralose,” raising concerns over its presence in our food supply.

The most significant adverse impact is attributed to sucralose-6-acetate, a compound both produced during digestion of sucralose. The study found that sucralose-6-acetate broke up DNA in human blood cells it was exposed to – confirming its genotoxicity. A further test was conducted with gut epithelial tissues, where both sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate made gut cell walls more permeable – otherwise known as “leaky gut.”

However, while these results certainly call for further research and testing, other social media posts have begun claiming that all products containing sucralose are incredibly harmful – with one viral post comparing an energy drink to “drinking a vax.”

In reality, while the research study found genotoxicity with human blood cells, all testing was conducted in vitro – outside the human body. It therefore draws no concrete conclusions about direct risks to human health.

A researcher involved in the study pointed out that because the tests were carried out in isolation, much more must be done to conclude anything about “applicability in humans” – particularly as it pertains to the levels of sucralose-6-acetate being produced in the human intestine. According to other experts consulted by health publications, the results should not be taken as a statement on the impact of ingesting sucralose-sweetened products.

Sucralose and other artificial sweeteners have been the subject of many different claims – other platforms have even fact-checked claims on Splenda being “untested” in previous years. In this case, while some sub-claims being made on social media overstate the recent research findings, the findings do suggest a need for further testing to reassess existing regulations.

Can Splenda damage our DNA? While sucralose has been shown to do so in vitro, no research has been carried out to assess genotoxicity impacts on the human system. We therefore give this claim a rating of Unproven.

Current international health regulations have limits in place for trace amounts of genotoxic substances in food products. Popular artificial sweeteners have also received approval from different regulatory bodies based on previous research that demonstrates their safety.

However, the science surrounding manmade food continues to change with continued research, and being aware of new developments is important. For instance, on 15 May, the World Health Organisation sent out a new conditional guideline that advises against using non-sugar sweeteners for weight control – citing in-progress research on possible “undesirable effects.”

In this case, personal consumption choices are best guided by identifying reputable sources and understanding the actual extent of new research instead of relying on social media headlines or overstated claims.

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