WASHINGTON (TND) — According to a new study, a chemical that forms when humans digest a certain type of "widely used" sweetener is "genotoxic," meaning it damages DNA.
That chemical is also said to be found in the sweetener itself in trace amounts and researchers claim "the finding raises questions about how the sweetener may contribute to health problems."
North Carolina State University shared the findings of its new study in a news release. It names "sucralose," said to be the most widely used artificial sweetener in the United States, as the "issue."
Previous work from the new study's research team "established that several fat-soluble compounds are produced in the gut after sucralose ingestion," according to NC State's news release, adding that "one of these compounds is sucralose-6-acetate."
The new work now "establishes that sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic" according to Susan Schiffman, corresponding author of the study and an adjunct professor in the joint department of biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is quoted in the release.
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," Schiffman added.
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 explains. “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."
According to NC State, researchers in the study conducted a series of experiments where they exposed human blood cells to sucralose-6-acetate and monitored for "markers of genotoxicity."
Schiffman says that "in short," the research team "found that sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic, and that it effectively broke up DNA in cells that were exposed to the chemical."
Human gut tissues were also exposed to sucralose-6-acetate as part of the study, according to the news release.
Other studies have found that sucralose can adversely affect gut health, so we wanted to see what might be happening there,” Schiffman says. “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," Schiffman explains. “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.”
The "genetic activity" of the gut cells exposed to sucralose-6-acetate was also examined during the study and Schiffman says that those cells "had increased activity in genes related to oxidative stress, inflammation and carcinogenicity."
This work raises a host of concerns about the potential health effects associated with sucralose and its metabolites," Schiffman says. "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 World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a new set of guidelines at the beginning of May urging people to not use non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) "to control body weight or reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)."
Sucralose is named as a common NSS by the WHO in its release of the new guidelines.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved sucralose for use in 15 food categories in 1998 and then, one year later, approved the artificial sweetener as a general-purpose sweetener.
According to Healthline.com, "Splenda" is the "most common sucralose-based product." The makers of Splenda, British food supplier Tate & Lyle PLC, say on their website that "Splenda Sucralose a reliable partner in a huge range of products."
The sugar-like taste makes it ideal for manufacturers, looking to create low calorie products that appeal to consumers," Tate & Lyle PLC says in its "Introduction to Sucralose" section. "Tate & Lyle is the sole manufacturer of SPLENDA Sucralose, a zero-calorie sweetener invented over 40 years ago. Part of our unique food and beverage solutions portfolio SPLENDA Sucralose offers sugar-like sweetness, stability and versatility."
NC State's study directly names the brand in its news release, saying sucralose is "a widely used artificial sweetener sold under the trade name Splenda."
Sucralose has been sold under other brand names as well, such as Cukren, Zerocal, Nevella, Canderel Yellow and SucraPlus according to The Washington Post.
The National Desk has reached out to Tate & Lyle PLC seeking comment. Tate & Lyle PLC referred TND to the Calorie Control Council, which issued this statement in response:
This study was conducted in a laboratory environment which cannot mimic the complex mechanisms of the human body, even when human cells are used. The results of the study therefore cannot be inferred by extension to humans and the general population,” said Robert Rankin, President, Calorie Control Council.
For the millions of people who rely on low- and no-calorie sweeteners to help manage body weight and reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and obesity, it is important to know the facts, which is sucralose has been rigorously studied by scientific and regulatory authorities around the world and is safe to consume," Rankin added.