A taste for social network marketing

Facebook users who land on the new ‘Splenda Mist’ page are being invited to become fans of Splenda ‘no calorie sweetener’, with the promise of being sent a free sample of their brand new Mist product prototype. The campaign is then being passed on to their unsuspecting network of friends and contacts, resulting in the company so far exceeding their distribution target of 10,000 samples by a sweet 6,000! It seems social networking, when combined with cutsey free samples, is set to become the next marketing mecca—even for a potentially toxic chemical like sucralose (trade name Splenda).

A big red warning label

Unfortunately these vulnerable new potential consumers may not know that last September, the chairman of the national nonprofit consumer advocacy group Citizens for Health, James Turner, was said to have ‘expressed shock and outrage’ after reading a report from Duke University scientists. His published comments were that "the report makes it clear that the artificial sweetener Splenda and its key component sucralose pose a threat to the people who consume the product. Hundreds of consumers have complained to us about side effects from using Splenda and this study, published this past week in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part A, confirms that the chemicals in the little yellow package should carry a big red warning label".

Numerous adverse effects on rats

The study results were published in January 2008, and the lead scientist, Professor Mohamed Abou-Donia, concluded that a 12-week administration of Splenda “exerted numerous adverse effects”. These included increase in body weight (strange for a weight-loss aid), a reduction in beneficial faecal microflora, increased faecal alkalinity, enhanced expression of liver enzymes and a transporter protein, which negatively affects the bioavailability of nutrients and orally administered drugs.

Unsurprisingly, this study has been heavily criticised by Mcneil Nutritionals, part of Johnson and Johnson, who market Splenda, and, granted, it was partly funded by the sugar association. Nevertheless, in an email to FoodNavigator.com, Professor Sam Kacew, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, was said to have “expressed his strong support for the methodology used in the study, refuting claims from McNeil that good laboratory practices (GLP) were ignored”. A ruling by US District Judge Dale S Fisher that this study was irrelevant due to the fact that it was conducted on rats has also been called into question by Professor Abou-Donia due to the fact that “Splenda itself was approved for use based on animal, mostly rat, studies”.

The ‘sweet’ relation to pesticides?

Sucralose is an organochloride compound. Many of the derivatives of this type of compound (with covalently bound chlorine atoms) are controversial due to their harmful effects on all forms of life and on the environment. The majority are insecticides, herbicides and pesticides and are not generally packaged in children’s lunch boxes! The synthetic pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT is so harmful to health that it's now banned for agricultural use most of the world over.

Sucraloseis made by selective substitution of sucrose hydroxyl groups by chlorine, resulting in a highly intense (600x) sugarlike sweetness and exceptional stability at both high temperature and low pH”.

The sweet taste of the chlorinated sugar is said to have been accidently discovered during a collaborative research program between Tate & Lyle and Queen Elizabeth College of the University of London, when the British sugar company was investigating the use of sucrose as a chemical intermediate. During the synthesis and testing of halogenated sugars, a graduate student was said to have misheard a request to ‘test’ the chlorinated sugar. He thought he was being asked to ‘taste’ it, and he consequently discovered the sweet taste.

Is sucralose absorbed?

The Splenda website admits that up to 15% of the ingested sucralose may be absorbed by the human body, but it insists that it does not accumulate in body tissues and that neither is it broken down by the body (which would release the chlorine!). However, we note that scientific references for that assurance are not given on their site, and neither have we been able to find any. On the contrary, we did find a human study, albeit very small, which shows that not all of the sucralose was accounted for in the urine and faeces. We wonder what the cumulative effects are over a long period of time, especially for those who ingest large amounts on a regular basis.

In an article entitled “The Lethal Science of Splenda, a Poisonous Chlorocarbon”, Dr James Bowen warns “any chlorocarbons not directly excreted from the body intact can cause immense damage to the processes of human metabolism and, eventually, our internal organs. The liver is a detoxification organ which deals with ingested poisons. Chlorocarbons damage the hepatocytes, the liver's metabolic cells, and destroy them”.

Increase in risks when sucralose is exposed to extreme conditions

It is also known that extreme conditions such as high temperature and acidity (stirring into cola, or exposure to stomach acid) can cause sucralose to ‘hydrolyse’ or break down into component parts. Likely exposure to hydrolysed by-products is acknowledged, though any risk from these are dismissed, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, who are responsible for the approval of Splenda.

It is also interesting to note that, on the Splenda website, there’s a specific safety assurance that sucralose is not hydrolysed—well, perhaps they mean the bit that is not absorbed!

Other adverse effects in animals

Other adverse effects found in animals as a result of sucralose ingestion include:

DNA damage in gastrointestinal organs, epithelial (surface tissue) hyperplasia (increase in the number of normal cells) and mineralisation (calcification) at the centre of the kidney, haemorrhagic degeneration of the adrenal cortex (which regulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism, salt and water balance), incidence of cataracts, marked gastrointestinal disturbance, deaths in pregnant rabbits and aborted rabbit foetuses, swollen livers and kidneys and shrunken thymus glands.

What about humans?

Astonishingly, there has been very scant research carried out with humans on the safety of sucralose, and there have there been absolutely no long-term trials of any kind. However, despite the dearth of scientific studies, the many consumers who have reported adverse side effects from using sucralose shouldn't be ignored. It should also not be ignored that despite the glaringly obvious deficiency of safety data, sucralose slipped sweetly through the FDA approval process and has gone on to worldwide use.

Adverse effects found in humans as a result of sucralose ingestion include: headaches and migraines, and a long list of consumer-reported side-effects including: skin rashes/flushing, panic-like agitation, dizziness and numbness, diarrhea, swelling, muscle aches, intestinal cramping, bladder issues, and stomach pain.

Not so sweet after all

Symptoms and side effects like these are clear signs that the body is under duress and all is not well. But what about after years or decades of use? Will the cumulative effects of the absorbed sucralose and its hydrolysis products begin to manifest as more obvious damage to the body? The problem is, we just don’t know—and given the lack of safety studies, no one does. Do you really want to play Russian roulette with your, or your children's health? One thing we do know is that given the worldwide regulatory approval of Splenda and the economic clout of the manufacturers, you certainly shouldn't rely on the authorities to monitor the potential health hazards.

We at the ANH are very concerned about the safety of both sucralose and aspartame (see our feature: EFSA defends controversial sweetener aspartame, 8 June 09). Neither are a natural sugar, we didn’t evolve with them and there is insufficient evidence to convince us of safety but plenty to show us that they are more hazardous than healthy. The final choice is up to you.

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