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It seems like every six months a new study is published on the bitter truth about Splenda's lack of safety, which is still marketed to the world as a safe alternative to relatively calorie-rich sweeteners like sugar and honey.
Now a new study published in the open access journal PLoS titled, "Sucralose Induces Biochemical Responses in Daphnia magna [water flea]," indicates that the artificial sweetener sucralose - sold under the trade name Splenda and approved for consumption in at least 70 countries - may have sublethal adverse effects on animal behavior and physiology due to its oxidative and possibly neurotoxic properties.
The researchers described the nature and intention of their study:
"To our knowledge, this is the first study examining biomarker responses in aquatic organisms exposed to sucralose. Based on the observed swimming abnormalities in Daphnia exposed to sucralose  and recent findings that correlate AChE (acetylcholinesterase) activity with oxidative stress in humans , , we hypothesized that these behavioural effects are related to alterations in AChE and oxidative status."
Sucralose -- a sucrose containing three chlorine atoms -- despite being marketed initially by the manufacturer as somewhat natural (i.e. "it tastes like sugar because it is made from sugar"), is an extremely synthetic chemical compound highly resistant to biodegradation, and like other compounds within the organochloride class of chemicals, which include pesticides like DDT, it persists for a long time in the environment. [i] For instance, a recent study found it detectable in offshore waters, such as the Atlantic Gulf Stream.[ii] Indeed, it is because of its exceptional non-biodegradability that it has been proposed to be an ideal tracer for human (anthropogenic) activities.[iii][iv]
This extremely popular sweetener has already been identified to have potential diabetes-promoting and carcinogenic properties. For instance, preliminary research in animals indicates it may be a cause of leukemia,[v] which motivated the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), last year, to downgrade its safety rating from "Safe" to "Caution."
One of the possible mechanisms behind its purported leukemogenic activity may be due to it producing one of the world's most highly toxic manmade compounds - dioxin -- when heated. [vi] Sucralose has also been proposed to be behind a global uptick in inflammatory bowel disease, most particularly evident in Canada. Considering the intimate relationship between the 'enteric brain,' or gut microbiome, and the central nervous system, this connection may reveal hitherto unrecognized neurological and behavior altering consequences of the use of this artificial sweetener.
What the Sucralose Study Found
The new study looked at the effects that sucralose had on the following measurable parameters in Daphnia magna, or water flea:
- Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) - an enzyme which hydrolyzes acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter essential for terminating synaptic transmission, a primary target of nerve agents and pesticides.
- Oxidative biomarkers (oxygen radical absorbing capacity, ORAC, and lipid peroxidation, TBARS)
After exposing the animals to sucralose (0.0001-5 mg L-1), they found that,
"The sucralose concentration was a significant positive predictor for ORAC, TBARS and AChE in the daphnids. Moreover, the AChE response was linked to both oxidative biomarkers, with positive and negative relationships for TBARS and ORAC, respectively."
They concluded from these observed effect that,
"These joint responses support our hypothesis and suggest that exposure to sucralose may induce neurological and oxidative mechanisms with potentially important consequences for animal behaviour and physiology."
Like so many novel patented chemicals released onto the market without adequate pre-approval safety studies, we do not know if this preliminary toxicological research will be applicable to human exposures. In fact, there are only 318 study citations (as of 5/10/14) on this chemical in existence since it first began to be researched in the 70's. This most recent study is the first in existence to look at its effect on the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which is found in all animals. This information deficit is all the more remarkable when you consider there are over 7,000 published studies in existence on either turmeric or its primary polyphenol curcumin, which is still not readily administered by the conventional medical establishment mostly due to 'safety concerns,' despite what the voluminous positive data on its relevance to over 600 health conditions indicates.
When it comes to the accumulating research on sucralose's potential adverse health effects, the precautionary principle dictates that when an avoidable chemical exposure has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on the manufactures, regulators and/or marketers who are claiming it to be safe. Given the significant body of research on sucralose's possible non-safety, the choice is clear. The use of time-tested, natural non-caloric or low-caloric sweeteners is best, especially considering that one can derive profound health benefits from natural sweeteners like honey and stevia.
[i] Lindsay Soh, Kristin A Connors, Bryan W Brooks, Julie Zimmerman. Fate of Sucralose through Environmental and Water Treatment Processes and Impact on Plant Indicator Species. Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Jan 14. [Epub ahead of print].
[ii] Mead RN, Morgan JB, Avery GB Jr, Kieber RJ, Kirk AM, et al. (2009) Occurrence of the artificial sweetener sucralose in coastal and marine waters of the United States. Mar Chem 116: 13-17.
[iii] Review Artificial sweeteners--a recently recognized class of emerging environmental contaminants: a review.
[iv] Fate of sucralose through environmental and water treatment processes and impact on plant indicator species. Soh L, Connors KA, Brooks BW, Zimmerman J Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Feb 15; 45(4):1363-9.
[vi] GreenMedInfo.com, Sucralose's (Splenda) Harms Vastly Understimated: Baking Releases Dioxin, Nov. 2013