While millions around the world consume foods and beverages sweetened with Splenda (sucralose) with abandon, an accumulating body of research indicates that this synthetic chemical is far from safe, may contribute to obesity and blood sugar disorders, and more recently has even been linked to leukemia in animal experiments.
For several years now, Greenmedinfo (GMI) has consolidated scientific study abstracts from the National Library of Medicine about Splenda (sucralose) and its potential health related effects. Two articles citing the most compelling research are The Bitter Truth about Splenda and Splenda (Sucralose) Found to have Diabetes Promoting Effects, both by GMI's founder, Sayer Ji. The former refers to its xenobiotic nature, i.e. its metabolically foreign chemical properties, 1 and provides evidence that when the sensation of sweetness is disassociated from 'food,' i.e. a source of calories or nutrition, it is either unrecognizable by the body, or disrupts the body neuroendocrine system in an adverse manner. 2
The latter article focuses on the potential sucralose has to promote diabetic and /or pre-diabetic disease processes within the human body. The results delineated in the study point to just a single dose of sucralose resulting in increases in blood sugar concentration, increases in insulin levels and decreases in insulin sensitivity, all of which are possible pre-cursors to diabetes. 3
The study came to the attention of a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson, who submitted a rebuttal letter to our founder. View it here.
On the surface, the J&J rebuttal reasonably addresses the points of view expressed in these articles. However, on further analysis, it is clear that several of its criticisms are superficial: namely, that the study did not test subjects with diabetes (even though the sucralose ingestion is clearly attributed to an increase in blood glucose levels and insulin secretion in subjects) and second, the methodology of the study which, Thomas notes, was 'small.. and was not backed by scientific collective data' 4
Despite the J&J spokesperson's criticism of the verifiability of the study referenced in the GMI article, as well as the glaring fact that several of the studies she refers to that found there were no adverse effects of Splenda were funded by the manufacturer of the chemical, the declaration with which she closes her rebuttal is egregiously lacking in scientific evidence itself. "Experts from around the world have found that SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener is suitable for everyone, including those with diabetes. Up to 4 packets of SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener or up to 8 teaspoons of SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated, are considered a "free food" in a meal plan for people with diabetes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Diabetes Association consider a free food for people with diabetes to be any food or beverage that contains less than 20 calories and 5 grams or less of carbohydrate per serving. In fact, SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener can play a useful role in diabetes management."
On May 30 the Daily Mail published an article online with the headline "Could artificial sweetener CAUSE diabetes? Splenda 'modifies way the body handles sugar', increasing insulin production by 20%" which represents a view in direct opposition to J&J's refutation. There were a number of methods in this study which were markedly different from other similar studies on the effects of Splenda. For example, the study used subjects who were clinically obese with the rationale that artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, are often prescribed to overweight individuals. In this study, which was published in the 'Journal Diabetes Care', all subjects were tested over two visits. If, during one visit a subject was given water to drink before being given glucose water, during the other he or she was given sucralose dissolved in water before drinking the glucose. Participants who drank sucralose prior to consuming glucose saw a 20% higher increase in insulin levels. Over time, this could lead to insulin resistance. Moreover, in many studies on the effects of artificial sweeteners, the sweetener is given to study participants by itself. In fact, notes, Yanina Pepino, the research assistant & professor of medicine at the Washington School of Medicine who lead the study, artificial sweeteners are rarely consumed on their own. They are usually used to sweeten other foods. So, she concludes, their effect in combination with other foods is significant. 'Our results indicate that this artificial sweetener is not inert - it does have an effect,' said Pepino.
More recently, on June 12th, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPINET), decided to downgrade Splenda's safety rating in its Chemical Cuisine guide to food additives. According to the CSPINET's website:
"The nonprofit food safety watchdog group had long rated sucralose as "safe," but is now placing it in the "caution" category pending a review of an unpublished study by an independent Italian laboratory that found that the sweetener caused leukemia in mice. The only previous long-term feeding studies in animals were conducted by the compound's manufacturers."
The CSPINET's Chemical Cuisine page on sucralose elaborated on the leukemia link:
"...what might be the greatest cause for concern, in 2012 an independent Italian laboratory announced (but has not yet published) a study that found that sucralose caused leukemia in mice that were exposed from before birth. That was the same lab that several years earlier published studies indicating that aspartame caused cancers in rats and mice."
Any argument can be made or destroyed by the deftness with which relevant statistics are highlighted or diluted – whatever the case may be. Certainly, it is true that a study is only as strong as its statistical integrity, its field process, the objectivity of the funding and regulating bodies and its relevance. Relying solely on the circumferential, however, may serve merely to distract readers toward what they may already – albeit unconsciously – believe or want to believe. If that is true then neither manipulating statistics nor journalistic smoke and mirrors will do anything to truly educate or inform and certainly won't change anyone's mind. Perhaps the only way to begin is with unassailable truths. Let's do that.