Many people turn to artificial sweeteners when trying to eliminate sugar from their diet. Sucralose, known by its brand name Splenda, was introduced in 1998, and it quickly became famous as a sugar substitute. But is sucralose bad for you? Let us take a look at the health effects of sucralose to find out the answer to this question.
What is sucralose?
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, and Splenda is the most common sucralose based product. In fact, sucralose is chlorinated sugar. It is made in a multi-step chemical process in which three hydrogen-oxygen groups replace chlorine atoms.
It was discovered in 1976 by accident. Tate and Lyle, a British company, was searching for new ways to blend sucrose with laboratory chemicals. An international student, Shashikant Phadnis, misheard instruction about testing the substance and tasted it instead. This accident led them to discover that chlorinated sugars are much sweeter than sugar.
Sucralose is 400 to 700 times sweeter than sugar and does not taste bitter after a while like other sweeteners. We use it often used as a sugar substitute in cooking and baking (1).
Splenda is one of the five sugar substitutes that are considered safe to use in the US. The other approved sugar substitutes are aspartame, neotame, saccharin and acesulfame potassium. The US Food and Drug Administration approved Splenda for general use in 1999 after studying toxicology reports, trials and clinical studies.
What are the side effects of sucralose?
Sucralose was considered safe to use till recently. Some recent studies have linked it to health problems. Here are some of the side effects linked to the usage of sucralose.
1. Negative effects on digestion
Sucralose has negative effects on the digestive process. The bacteria found in our gut are essential for our health. They help improve our digestion, boost our immune system and lower the risk of other diseases.
According to a study done on rats, consumption of sucralose reduces the number of bacteria in the gut by almost 80 percent (2). Sucralose seems to affect the beneficial bacteria more than the harmful type. This effect on gut bacteria leads to diarrhea, gas and bloating.
More studies are needed to determine the effect of sucralose on humans.
2. Prevents absorption of medicines
Consuming sucralose can make it harder for the body to absorb certain medicines. According to a study by Duke University, Splenda increases the Ph levels in the intestines, and this affects the P- glycoprotein in the body that can block the effect of chemotherapy drugs.
The makers of Splenda refute the findings of this study. So, more human studies need to be done to confirm the results of this study.
3. May affect blood sugar and insulin levels
Though the makers of Splenda claim that sucralose does not affect the blood sugar levels and insulin, specific studies point in a different direction.
A study was done on 17 obese individuals who did not usually consume artificial sweeteners. When these people consumed sucralose, their sugar levels were elevated by 14 percent and insulin levels by 20 percent (3).
There have been several other studies on the effects of sucralose on healthy people who consumed sucralose on a regular basis. These studies found no effect on blood sugar and insulin levels (4).
So, it would be safe to assume that if you do not consume Splenda on a regular basis, it can affect your blood sugar and insulin levels.
4. Baking with sucralose
For years sucralose was considered a safe sweetener as it didn’t break down at high temperature. This is the reason why it became a favourite sugar substitute for baking.
Recent studies have shown that sucralose does break down at high temperatures and reacts with other ingredients (5).
According to another study, heating sucralose with glycerol produces chloropropanols. This harmful substance may raise the risk of cancer (6). So it is best to avoid baking with sucralose.
5. Affect on weight gain
According to a study done at Washington School of Medicine, when sucralose is given with glucose, insulin levels rise by 20 percent. Since insulin spikes lead to fat storage, these sweeteners may lead to weight gain.
Some other studies have found no correlation between the use of sucralose and body weight. And then other studies indicate that there may be a slight loss in body weight (0.8 kg on average) if you use sucralose (7).
Some studies indicate that sucralose usage may cause weight gain others claim it causes a slight weight loss. However, it does not seem to be a handy tool for weight loss.
6. Can trigger migraines
Sucralose can trigger headaches in certain individuals (8). According to a study published in The Journal of Head and Face Pain, if people prone to migraines cut sucralose from the diet, it may help alleviate the symptoms.
Is sucralose safe?
While FDA considers sucralose safe, recent reports point to its various harmful effects (9). If effects the beneficial gut bacteria, and can lead to digestive problems. For some people, it affects the blood sugar and insulin levels.
Sucralose should be avoided while baking as it can break down at high temperature. While its effect on weight gain or loss is not very clear, it does trigger headaches in people prone to migraines. Further research is being done on the harmful effects of sucralose on humans.
Should it be avoided?
Yes. Since there are some adverse side effects of this sweetener, we should avoid it. Studies have proved some of these side effects; some are still unproven. Cooking and baking with Splenda should be avoided. Opt for natural alternatives to Splenda for better health.