Artificial sweeteners are widely consumed around the world, often by people who want to lose weight, although the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently warned that non-sugar sweeteners do not help with weight control. Now, a new finding has placed them in the spotlight because, according to a study, a chemical that is produced while we are digesting a commonly used sweetener – and that is also found in small amounts in the sweetener itself – is “genotoxic”. which means it breaks the DNA.
The research points to sucralose, a very popular artificial sweetener marketed under the name Splenda®. The authors of the paper are researchers from North Carolina State University who, in a previous study, had determined that after ingesting sucralose, several fat-soluble compounds are produced in the intestine: one of them is sucralose-6-acetate.
“Our new work establishes that sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic,” said Susan Schiffman, associate professor in the joint department of biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and first author. of the study. “We also found that small amounts of sucralose-6-acetate can be found in commercial sucralose, even before it is consumed and metabolized,” she adds.
The minimum amounts of sucralose-6-acetate in a single sucralose-sweetened drink per day exceed the toxicological risk threshold established by EFSA
The researcher explained that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has established “a toxicological risk threshold for all genotoxic substances of 0.15 micrograms per person per day”, while her findings suggest that “minimum amounts of sucralose -6-acetate in a single sucralose-sweetened beverage daily exceed that threshold. And that’s not even taking into account how much sucralose-6-acetate is produced as metabolites after people consume sucralose.” The findings have been published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health.
Sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate cause leaky gut
The researchers carried out a series of in vitro experiments exposing human blood cells to sucralose-6-acetate and monitoring markers of genotoxicity. According to Schiffman, they found that “sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic and that it effectively broke down DNA in cells that were exposed to the chemical.”
In other investigations it had been observed that sucralose can harm the health of the intestine, so they also carried out in vitro experiments in which they exposed human intestinal epithelial tissues to sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate, thus verifying that both substances caused leaky gut. Specifically, they make the intestinal wall more permeable by impairing the “tight junctions,” or interfaces, where cells in the intestinal wall connect to each other.
“A leaky gut is problematic, because it means that things that are normally passed out of the body in the stool are instead leaking out of the intestine and absorbed into the bloodstream.” Schiffman has noted that when they looked at intestinal cells exposed to sucralose-6-acetate they found that they “had increased activity in genes related to oxidative stress, inflammation and carcinogenicity.”
“This work raises a number of concerns about the potential health effects associated with sucralose and its metabolites. It is time to review the safety and regulatory status of sucralose, because there is increasing evidence that it carries significant risks. If nothing else, I encourage people to avoid products that contain sucralose. It’s something you shouldn’t be eating,” concludes Schiffman.