Sweetener alert: the chemical in common sweeteners damages DNA

A recent study reveals that a chemical formed during the digestion of a widely used sweetener is genotoxic, causing DNA damage.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Splenda and Equal artificial Sweeteners

Sweeteners seem like the perfect alternative to sugar. They are not unhealthy but give the same sweetness. However, scientists have discovered that a chemical formed during the digestion of a widely used sweetener is genotoxic, causing DNA damage. This groundbreaking study has raised serious concerns about the potential health risks of this widely used artificial sweetener.

This is according to a press release published by NC State University on Wednesday.

The sweetener under scrutiny is sucralose, commonly known by its trade name Splenda®. While previous research has shed light on the production of certain fat-soluble compounds in the gut after consuming sucralose, this new study focuses on one particular compound called sucralose-6-acetate.

Leading the research team is Susan Schiffman, an adjunct professor in the joint biomedical engineering department at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She explains, "Our new work establishes that sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic. We also found trace amounts of sucralose-6-acetate in off-the-shelf sucralose, even before it is consumed and metabolized."

The threshold of safety

Generally, the European Food Safety Authority has set a threshold of toxicological concern for all genotoxic substances at 0.15 micrograms per person per day. However, the researchers found that the trace amounts of sucralose-6-acetate present in a single, daily sucralose-sweetened drink already exceed this threshold. And this doesn't even consider the additional sucralose-6-acetate produced as metabolites after people consume sucralose.

To further investigate the genotoxicity of sucralose-6-acetate, the scientists conducted a series of experiments using human blood cells. The results were nothing short of alarming. Schiffman reports, "In short, we found that sucralose-6-acetate is genotoxic and that it effectively broke up DNA in cells that were exposed to the chemical."

Sweetener alert: the chemical in common sweeteners damages DNA
Artificial sweeteners

The researchers didn't stop there. They also explored the effects of sucralose-6-acetate on human gut tissues. Previous studies had already hinted at sucralose's negative impact on gut health, prompting the team to delve deeper. Schiffman explains, "When we exposed sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate to gut epithelial tissues - the tissue that lines your gut wall - we found that both chemicals cause 'leaky gut.' Basically, they make the gut wall more permeable, damaging the 'tight junctions' where cells in the gut wall connect."

A leaky gut can spell trouble, as it allows substances that should be eliminated through feces to leak into the bloodstream instead. Additionally, the researchers observed increased activity in genes related to oxidative stress, inflammation, and carcinogenicity in gut cells exposed to sucralose-6-acetate.

Schiffman concludes, "This work raises a host of concerns about the potential health effects associated with sucralose and its metabolites. It's time to revisit the safety and regulatory status of sucralose because the evidence is mounting that it carries significant risks. If nothing else, I encourage people to avoid products containing sucralose. It's something you should not be eating."

With this groundbreaking discovery, it's clear that we need to reevaluate the safety of sucralose and its impact on our health. As consumers, it's important to make informed choices and consider alternatives to products containing sucralose. Protecting our DNA and gut health should be a priority, and this research reminds us of the potential risks lurking in our everyday sweeteners.

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