Researchers Discover Popular Sweetener Damages DNA

New study reveals additional health detriments to consuming the 1998 FDA-approved sucralose

Researchers Discover Popular Sweetener Damages DNA
Damaged DNA (Festa/Shutterstock)
Amy Denney
A new study on sucralose—a popular sugar-free sweetener that was put through 110 safety studies before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it in 1998—found that the popular ingredient has toxicities that regulatory agencies must consider. 
New health and safety findings revealed in the study show that sucralose, sometimes sold under the brand name Splenda, is “genotoxic,” meaning that it breaks up DNA. That’s on top of other condemning evidence revealed in the study published on May 29 in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Years of independent research into sucralose have dismantled many of the original claims made in its food additive permit
How sucralose can damage DNA is a metabolic process. When the sweetener is digested, it forms a metabolite called sucralose-6-acetate. But the product itself has also been found to contain trace amounts of this chemical compound. Taken together, the results of this study and previous research implicate sucralose in a range of detrimental health issues. 
“This is not acceptable. We can’t have genotoxic compounds in our food supply,” Susan Schiffman, corresponding author of the study, told The Epoch Times. “I think if it was presented to the FDA today, they would not approve it. The original claims made to the FDA just aren’t true. I don’t know how they missed it.” 

Original Testing

Sucralose, which is about 600 times sweeter than table sugar, is used in 15 food categories including beverages, baked goods, gum, gelatins, and frozen desserts. On its website, the FDA stated that it determined the safety of sucralose by reviewing studies on the reproductive and nervous systems, carcinogenicity, and metabolism. The FDA also reviewed human clinical trials to address the effects on patients with diabetes.
The permit also states that it was evaluated for genotoxicity and “showed weakly genotoxic responses in some of the genotoxicity tests.” However, the report goes on to state that there was no evidence of carcinogenic activity and that “results from these chronic carcinogenicity studies supersede the results observed in the genotoxicity tests because they are more direct and complete tests of carcinogenic potential.”
Schiffman, who's an adjunct professor in the joint department of biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, said many of the studies were flawed because of how they were performed, such as not checking fat tissue for bioaccumulation and checking blood glucose levels in distant intervals from exposure. 
“If you design your studies in such a way to have no effect, you’ll have no effect,” she said. 

A Trail of New Evidence

The new study bolsters other research, including some Schiffman has done over the past several years. 
In 2018, her team discovered that sucralose, argued to simply pass through the gastrointestinal tract without metabolizing, converts to metabolites called sucralose-6-acetate, a fat-soluble compound that stayed in the tissues of rats two weeks after they last consumed sucralose. In the new study, researchers conducted in vitro experiments exposing human blood cells to the metabolite and monitoring for markers of genotoxicity. 
“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,” she said in a statement.
“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. 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.”
Because previous research has also shown a connection between sucralose and gut health, the researchers also exposed gut cells to the metabolite and observed increased activity in genes related to oxidative stress, inflammation, and carcinogenicity, showing significant risks from consumption. 
Both sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate exposed to gut epithelial tissues were found to cause a condition called “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 said. “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.”

Sorting Through Guidelines

The Epoch Times contacted the American Beverage Association. It directed inquiries to the Calorie Control Council, which sent a statement by email.

“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 of the 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.”

In response to a previous study on sucralose, the American Beverage Association shared a statement from the European Food Safety Authority reconfirming the safety of the ingredient found in many foods and beverages.

“This is an important confirmation, as individuals world-wide rely on sweeteners, like sucralose, as safe and effective tools for both losing weight or maintaining weight loss,” it stated on its website.

The Epoch Times also contacted and left a message with the marketing and communications director at Heartland Food Products, which manufactures Splenda.

The American Heart Association and other organizations label low-calorie sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, and noncaloric sweeteners as non-nutritive sweeteners (NNSs), since they offer no nutritional benefits such as vitamins and minerals.

It advises the replacement of sugary foods and drinks with NNSs as a way to limit calories, achieve or maintain a healthy weight, and maintain stable blood glucose levels.

“For example, swapping a full-calorie soda with diet soda is one way of not increasing blood glucose levels while satisfying a sweet tooth,” one article on the AHA’s website reads. “We don’t know for sure if using NNSs in food and drinks makes people actually eat or drink fewer calories every day. But reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet? That we know for sure is a good thing.”

Unrelated to this study, the World Health Organization recently offered a controversial warning that sugar substitutes such as sucralose raise the risk of severe health conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality.

“It’s a multibillion-dollar product, and there’s going to be pushback,” Schiffman said. “What I’m hoping is somebody who makes these kinds of decisions does something about it. At the very least, it needs to be labeled.”

Amy Denney is a health reporter for The Epoch Times. Amy has a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield and has won several awards for investigative and health reporting. She covers the microbiome, new treatments, and integrative wellness.