Nothing has been researched and declared safe as often as sweeteners, it sounds when people start to grumble about Diet Coke again. And yet: now there is new research that suggests that the commonly used sweetener sucralose can damage our DNA.
More precisely, it concerns a substance that is produced in the intestines when you ingest sucralose. This so-called sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic, which means that it breaks down DNA. The substance is also found in minimal amounts in the sweetener itself. It naturally raises the question: is that harmful to health?
Threshold value exceeded
“Our new study shows that sucralose-6-acetate is indeed genotoxic,” says researcher Susan Schiffman of the North Carolina State University. “We also found traces in sucralose itself, before it was consumed or processed by the gut.”
Schiffman himself warns: “To put this in context: the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) applies a threshold value for genotoxic substances of 0.15 micrograms per person per day.” Above that, the fabric is a concern. “Our work shows that trace amounts of sucralose-6-acetate in one sucralose-sweetened drink already exceed that limit. And that’s not even counting the sucralose-6-acetate produced in the gut.”
The researchers base their conclusions on a series of in vitro experiments in which they exposed human blood cells to sucralose-6-acetate and monitored them for genotoxic markers. “Basically, we found that sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic and that it breaks down DNA in cells exposed to the substance,” said the researcher.
They also did in vitro tests where human intestinal tissue was exposed to sucralose-6-acetate. “Other studies have shown that sucralose can have a bad impact on gut health, so we wanted to know what exactly is happening,” says Schiffman. “When we exposed the tissue lining the gut wall to sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate, we found that both compounds caused leaky gut.” Then there are tiny holes in the intestine. “The substances damage the connections that connect the cells in the intestinal wall.”
And that’s not good news. “A leaky gut is problematic. It means that things that normally leave our body through the stool now leak out of the gut and end up in the blood,” it sounds.
Finally, the researchers also looked at the genetic activity of the intestinal cells to see how they responded to the presence of sucralose-6-acetate. “We found that these intestinal cells had increased activity in genes related to oxidative stress, inflammation and carcinogenicity,” says Schiffman.
“This study raises many concerns about the potential health effects of sucralose and its metabolites. It is time to review the regulations surrounding the safety of sucralose as there is increasing evidence that the substance is indeed harmful.” The researcher therefore advises people to avoid products containing sucralose. “It’s something you shouldn’t be eating.”
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener produced by the chlorination of sucrose. It is 500 to 600 times sweeter than sugar and is sold under the brand names Splenda and Altern. On the ingredients list of products you can recognize sucralose as E955. The substance was discovered in the US in 1976 and has only been allowed in Europe since 2004. Sucralose is the only sweetener made from sugar. There has already been more research that showed that the substance can be bad for the intestinal flora. Sucralose can be found in all kinds of light products, from soft drinks to sauces and from candy to dairy products. There are over 15 approved sweeteners, but sucralose is among the four most commonly used. That list also includes aspartame, stevia and acesulfame-K. Before you get very worried: the Nutrition Center states that there is nothing wrong with sweeteners: “There are stories circulating that warn people about sweeteners such as aspartame. These stories are often based on wrong conclusions and careless investigations,” it says on the website.
We are not writing about the potentially harmful effects of sweeteners for the first time. For example, erythritol – a natural product – increase the risk on blood clots and thus lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Aspartame (E951) and acesulfame-K (E950) are in research last year has been associated with a higher risk of cancer. Although the latter study in particular has many snags. In general, sweeteners are considered safe by the European Union after extensive research. Moreover: sugar is probably unhealthier.
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