Splenda (sucralose) was downgraded from "safe" to "caution" in 2013 after an Italian animal study linked sucralose to a higher risk of developing leukemia. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said at the time that it was awaiting the Italian study's review before deciding what long-term safety grade to assign to Splenda in its Chemical Cuisine guide to food additives. As of early 2015 this study review has not yet been published.
Hundreds of millions of people globally use artificial sweeteners, which are commonly found in a wide range of food and drinks, including food for diabetes, cakes, milkshakes, soft drinks, and even medications.
The steadily growing problem of obesity and type 2 diabetes in developed and middle income countries has led to rising demand for reduced-calorie foods and drinks. However, the growth of the artificial-sweetener market has brought with it concerns among consumers regarding the potential health consequences.
Italian study linked a lifetime of sucralose consumption to leukemia risk
Dr. Morando Soffritti, director of the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, and team fed 843 laboratory mice varying doses of sucralose from when they were fetuses until they died.
Post-mortems showed an association between leukemia risk and lifetime sucralose consumption - the more sucralose they consumed, the higher their risk of leukemia.
Dr Soffritti said:
"Our early studies in rats showed increases in several types of cancer, and, in our most recent aspartame studies, we observed a statistically significant increase of liver and lung tumors in male mice. This shows aspartame causes cancer in various places of the body in two different species. Health concerns over aspartame are leading consumers to switch to the widely promoted alternative: sucralose.
Now that we have found evidence of a link between sucralose and cancer in mice, similar research should be urgently repeated on rats, and large scale observational studies should be set up to monitor any potential cancer risk to human health."
Dr Soffritti says that children and pregnant mothers should avoid consuming artificial sweeteners until appropriate studies clearly show there is no cancer risk.
On an online communiqué, CSPI added that the only long-term feeding studies on sucralose in animals, before the Italian one, were conducted by Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Splenda.
As things stand at the moment, these are the gradings CSPI gives to artificial sweeteners:
- Splenda - caution
- Saccharin - avoid
- Aspartame - avoid
- Acesulfame potassium - avoid
- Rebiana - safe
CSPI adds that it would be useful to have further testing done on rebiana.
CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, said:
"Sucralose may prove to be safer than saccharin, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium, but the forthcoming Italian study warrants careful scrutiny before we can be confident that the sweetener is safe for use in food."
Diet sodas probably still better than regular ones
Even though concerns exist regarding the health risks associated with artificial sweeteners, CSPI believes people are better off drinking diet rather than regular sugar-sweetened sodas. The CSPI says that the health consequences from regularly drinking sugar-laden soft drinks, which include obesity, gout, tooth decay, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, are probably greater.
Water is best - soft drinks with any kind of natural or artificial sweetener commonly contain food dyes and caramel coloring that are contaminated with 4-methylimidazole, a carcinogen. CSPI encourages consumers to drink water, seltzer water (soda water, effervescent mineral water), flavored unsweetened waters, unsweetened iced tea, or seltzer mixed with natural fruit juice.
New sweeteners enter CSPI's Chemical Cuisine guide
CSPI has included some new natural sweeteners in its Chemical Cuisine guide:
- Monkfruit extract (also known as Luo Han Guo or Lo Han Kuo) - contains mogrosides. Mogrosides are 200 times sweeter than sugar. However, they can leave a licorice-like aftertaste. Monkfruit extract currently has a "caution" rating because it has not been tested scientifically.
- Monatin - derived from a South African shrub. Monatin is said to be 3,000 times sweeter than sugar. Monatin currently has a "caution" rating because it has not been tested scientifically.
Sucralose is about 600 times as sweet as table sugar (sucrose), three times as sweet as aspartame, and twice as sweet as saccharin.