After being studied for more than 20 years, the artificial sweetener sucralose was deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration. This noncaloric sweetener is used in a wide variety of foods, including baked goods, frozen desserts and beverages. Although the majority of scientific evidence has shown sucralose to be safe, some research has indicated that there are potential health risks associated with the popular sweetener.
Origin of Concerns
All artificial sweeteners go through rigorous safety reviews before they are approved for public use. The FDA concluded, after reviewing over 100 studies on its safety, that sucralose poses no risk to human health. Much of the concern over the safety of artificial sweeteners stems from another artificial sweetener, cyclamate, which was thought to cause cancer in animals and has been banned since 1969. Later reexamination, however, proved cyclamate to be a nontoxic substance.
Cancer Link in Mice
While there is no proof that sucralose causes cancer in humans, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, reports that the artificial sweetener may still pose a health risk. In 2013, the organization downgraded its safety rating for sucralose from "Safe" to "Avoid," following the release of an independent Italian study that found a possible link in mice between sucralose and leukemia. Until the study can be reviewed further, CSPI recommends that consumers avoid sucralose. However, the organization still recommends that consumers drink artificially sweetened diet sodas rather than sugar-sweetened sodas, which pose greater health risks.
Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Gain
One of the most obvious reasons people choose calorie-free artificial sweeteners over real sugar is to avoid the extra calories that can lead to weight gain and related health problems. However, according to a review published in the "Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine" in 2010, artificial sweeteners don't satisfy the brain in the same way that real sugar does, which can lead to overconsumption. The review notes that several large-scale studies have found a positive correlation between the use of artificial sweeteners and weight gain.
Reduced Gut Microflora in Rats
An animal study published in 2008 in the "Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health" found that high doses of sucralose administered to rats over a 12-week period caused reductions in beneficial gut microflora. The human immune system relies on microflora for normal function, and the reduction of these beneficial bacteria could compromise the body's immune function. However, this study used high doses of sucralose, and it did not include human subjects.
- NYU Langone Medical Center: The Skinny on Sucralose
- National Cancer Institute: Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: CSPI Downgrades Splenda From "Safe" to "Caution"
- The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine: Gain Weight by “Going Diet”? Artificial Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings
- Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Splenda Alters Gut Microflora and Increases Intestinal P-glycoprotein and Cytochrome P-450 in Male Rats
- EMBO Reports: The Gut Flora as a Forgotten Organ