Splenda - Sucralose:  A Safe Artificial Sweetener or Pesticide?

How much sweeter than sugar? 600 times

What is it? Sugar (sucrose) chemically combined with chlorine. It’s “made from sugar” label slogan is technically true, but misleading. It was discovered in 1976 by British scientists in search for new INSECTICIDES. It was approved in the US in 1998 and introduced in 1999. Splenda is manufactured by McNeil Nutritionals. The molecule of Splenda is comprised of sucrose (sugar) – except that three of the hydroxyl groups in the molecule have been replaced by three chlorine atoms. This results in the bonds holding the carbon and chlorine atoms together being more characteristic of a chlorocarbon than a salt- and most pesticides are chlorocarbons. The Splenda proponents will argue that just because something contains chlorine doesn’t guarantee that it is toxic. That is true, but long-term studies have not been done so we are all basically a “Splenda experiment.”

Why it’s low-calorie: Our bodies can’t burn sucralose for energy

Safety: Sucralose passed all safety tests in animal studies

Comments: Is the fastest growing artificial sweetener on the market

There is no reason to suspect sucralose causes any harm (Nutrition Action Newsletter (May, 2004) Unlike aspartame, sucralose can be used in baked foods as it is heat tolerant. It appears to be the safest artificial sweetener.

The main controversy with Splenda is their false advertising - the sugar industry has sued makers of Splenda for trying to make people think it is more natural than it really is. In a study by the Center for Science in the Public Safety (CSPI), 57 percent of people thought Splenda was a natural product, not an artificial sweetener.

Per Dr. Mercola, at the time of his last analysis in 2006, there were only 6 human trials published on Splenda. Of these 6 trials, only two of the trials were completed and published before the FDA approved sucralose for human consumption. The two published trials had a grand total of 36 human subjects. Of the 36 people, only 23 were actually given sucralose for testing and the longest trial at this time lasted only 4 days and look at sucralose in relation to tooth decay, not human tolerance. In other words, this artificial sweetener has really not been studied well.

Per Dr. Mercola, McNeil Nutritionals, in their marketing pitch for Splenda emphasizes that Splenda has endured some of the most rigorous testing to date for any food additive. They claim that over 100 studies have been conducted on Splenda, but most of these studies were done on animals. There has been no long-term toxicity studies published until AFTER the FDA approved sucralose for human consumption. Following FDA approval a human toxicity trial was conducted, but lasted only 3 months, hardly the length of time most Splenda users plant so consume sucralose. No studies have been done on children or pregnant women. Per Dr. Mercola, The FDA has a long standing history of ineffective screening and rampant conflict of interests as demonstrated in their inability to identify Vioxx as too dangerous for the market. This mistake cost 55,000 people their lives (from Dr. Mercola website- this may be inflated.)

The actual calorie count of a Splenda packet is 3.36 calories, 31% of the calories of a single-serving packet of granulated sugar. However, in the US it is legally labeled “zero calories” because the FDA allows this if “the food calories contains less than 5 calories per reference amount customarily consumed and per labeled serving” – but it is one third the calories of sugar. Very misleading. Further, Splenda contains a relatively small amount of sucralose, little of which is metabolized; virtually all of Splenda’s caloric content derives from the dextrose or highly fluffed maltodextrin “bulking agents” that give Splenda its volume.

A recent study shows that Splenda significantly decreases beneficial gut flora. But, the FDA decided that because these studies weren’t based on human test animals, they were not conclusive, partially because the study was done on rats.

Those against Splenda argue that molecular wise, it has a structure closer to DDT than it does sugar. The majority of people don’t absorb a significant amount of Splenda in their small intestine – about 15% do. The irony is that your body tries to clear unrecognizable substances by digesting them, so it is likely that the healthier your GI system is, the more you’ll absorb the chlorinated molecules of Splenda. The manufacturer’s own short-term studies showed that very high doses of sucralose (far beyond what would be expected in an ordinary diet) caused shrunken thymus glands, enlarged livers, and kidney disorders in rodents. Here the FDA wanted to have things both ways – they decided that because this study wasn’t based on human test results, they were not conclusive. Of course, rats are chosen for testing because they metabolize sucralose more like humans than any other animal used for testing. So, they accepted the manufacturer’s studies on rats because the manufacturer had shown that rats and humans metabolize the sweetener in similar ways, then shrugged off the safety concerns on the grounds that rats and humans are different.

Splenda, as a product, consists of more than sucralose – it is made with dextrose, and sometimes with maltodextrin, neither of which were included in the original trials of sucralose. So the reality is we are guinea pigs for Splenda.

Now, our children may be the next trial group. Thanks to an agreement between McNeil Nutritionals and PTO Today, which provides marketing and fund-raising aid to parent’s associations, your elementary school’s next bake sale may be sponsored by Splenda.

Key Points to Consider:

Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the FDA as food additives. Sugar alcohols used in US manufactured food generally have GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status. As food additives, artificial sweeteners are not subject to the same gauntlet of FDA safety trials as pharmaceuticals. Most of the testing is funded by the food industry, which has vested interest in the outcome. This can lead to misleading claims on both sides.

Artificial sweeteners are in products you wouldn’t consider – toothpaste, mouthwash, chewing gum, medicines, chewable vitamins, cough drops, etc.

Sugar and artificial sweeteners bind to our taste bud receptor for “sweetness” and send messages to the brain that we are eating something sweet. A recent study by researchers at Purdue University found that drinking diet soft drinks may interfere with the body’s natural ability to “count “calories. Our body’s ability to match how many calories we need with how many calories we take in is partially based on how sweet a food is. The sweeter and denser it is, the higher it is in calories. Our bodies use this as a gauge to tell us when to stop eating. Artificial sweeteners, however, through a wrench into this process. By eating and drinking foods that use artificial sweeteners (and therefore have lower calories) we may be retraining our bodies to no longer associate sweetness with higher calories. That means when we eat or drink food sweetened with real sugar, our bodies miscalculate the true calories associated with food. As a result, we consume more calories. In this study, rats that had been given both artificially-sweetened liquids and sugar-sweetened liquids for 10 days proceeded to eat more a sugar sweetened (high-calorie) chocolate snack than rats that had been given only the sugar-sweetened liquids for 10 days. The rats that experienced the inconsistent relationship between sweet taste and calories had lost some of their ability to compensate for the calories of the food. The National Soft Drink Association argued that the study was flawed.

- Research by Holly Creel, Masters in Nursing

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