Artificial sweeteners have become commonplace in our country. Sit down at any local restaurant and you’re all but guaranteed to see little yellow, blue, and pink artificial sweetener packets right alongside the sugar. Or stroll down the baking aisle in the grocery store and you’re bound to see a slew of “sugar-free” or “low-sugar” sweet treats lining the shelves.
Artificial sweeteners have exploded in popularity thanks to their ability to satisfy our insatiable sweet tooth without the effects of traditional sugar. Promises of zero calories and no impact on your blood sugar while still being able to indulge in tasty sweets can sound like a no-brainer at first. But, as the old saying goes: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
And this phrase rings particularly true when it comes to the impact some of these artificial sweeteners have on our health. Research has found that one artificial sweetener in particular known as sucralose may have some serious consequences on your well-being. So let’s dive into exactly what sucralose is and some of the concerning effects it can have.
What Is Sucralose? And Where Is Sucralose Found?
Sucralose is what’s known as an artificial sweetener or sugar substitute. Sucralose is produced by taking regular sugar molecules and chemically altering them – swapping out some naturally occurring parts of the sugar molecule, called hydroxyl, for chlorine atoms. This chemical alteration not only makes sucralose about 600 times sweeter than regular sugar but also allows it to pass through your digestive tract without being absorbed like sugar molecules – making it essentially calorie-free.1,2,3
Sucralose is also marketed under the name Splenda and can be found in countless food and beverage products – especially those marketed as sugar-free or low-sugar. Just some of the places you might find sucralose include:
- As a sugar substitute in restaurants (usually in little yellow packets)
- In diet sodas and other sugar-free drinks
- In baked goods, candies, and other sweets labeled as sugar-free or diabetic friendly
- In certain protein powders, bars, and shakes
- In chewing gum and breath mints
- And many, many more places
You can identify whether or not a product has this ultra-sweet sweetener by looking for sucralose or Splenda on the ingredient list on the product label. With such widespread use, you’d assume that this sweet treat must be safe to consume right?
Is Sucralose Sugar Safe?
The answer to this question is – it’s complicated. However, the bottom line is that I NEVER recommend patients use Sucralose for an artificial sweetner and have long had concerns about its safty. Sucralose and other artificial sweeteners have been widely marketed as a safe alternative to sugar since its introduction in the 90’s. Because sucralose supposedly doesn’t spike blood sugar or contribute to calorie intake, it’s been popularized as a “healthier” way to still enjoy sweet treats.3
But recent research has found that sucralose is not safe after all. One of the major ways that sucralose has been found to negatively affect your health can be found in the impact it has on your gut.
Does Sucralose Cause Gut Issues? The Link Between Sucralose and Leaky Gut Syndrome
One of sucralose’s most prominent effects is on your gut – with this sweet molecule regularly causing gut issues like bloating, gas, and diarrhea. But the damage doesn’t end there. Sucralose has also been found to trigger a concerning condition known as leaky gut syndrome in a process that goes something like this:4,5,6
- When you consume sucralose, it’s partially broken down and transformed into a compound known as sucralose-6-acetate
- Sucralose-6-acetate passes through your gut where it inevitably comes into contact with your gut epithelial tissues – the tissue that lines your gut wall
- You gut epithelial lining is made up of a web of individual cells packed in tightly and held together by tiny proteins known as tight junctions
- These tight junctions are designed to allow your gut lining to serve as a selective barrier – allowing nutrients and electrolytes to pass from your gut to your bloodstream while keeping waste and toxins sealed up tightly
- When sucralose-6-acetate comes into contact with these tight junctions it hinders their ability to maintain their connections – essentially allowing tiny “gaps” to form within your intestinal walls
- These tiny gaps then allow toxins, wastes, and harmful bugs to “leak” their way into your bloodstream – spiking inflammation and wreaking havoc throughout your body
- As inflammation spikes within your gut, it also disrupts the balance of your microbiome – negatively shifting the delicate ecosystem of microbes that inhabit your digestive tract
- This creates a vicious cycle that further exacerbates your leaky gut, which further shifts your microbiome, and so on and so forth
Leaky gut syndrome and gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in your microbiome) have been linked to a laundry list of health concerns ranging from acne to weight gain and from depression to chronic disease. Click here to learn more about leaky gut syndrome and it’s effects.
But sucralose’s consequences don’t end there. Studies have found that sucralose’s reach may even extend to your DNA.
Does Sucralose Affect DNA?
Research has found that the answer to this question may be yes. You see, your DNA is composed of 2 strands that coil around each other and contain the genetic “instruction manual” that informs your cells on how to carry out their functions. If there is a break or alteration in these chains, it essentially changes the instruction manual – causing your cells to change the way they develop, function, and reproduce.
This mutation of your genetic code can have a domino effect, leading to serious conditions like autoimmunity, birth defects, and cancer to name a few. And sucralose-6-acetate produced from the consumption of sucralose has been found to potentially cause damage and breaks to your DNA.7,8
DNA damage combined with the negative impact sucralose has on your gut adds up to some serious ramifications for your health. So, if you’ve been watching your waistline or trying to manage your blood sugars by using artificial sweeteners like sucralose, you’re probably curious what a better alternative is.
So, What Is the Best Alternative to Sucralose?
While the promises of “zero calories” and “zero sugar” can certainly make sucralose and other artificial sweeteners sound enticing, the truth is, consuming ultra-processed and unnatural foods is always going to come at a price. Our bodies are not designed to regularly consume these unnatural products. So, if you consume sucralose once in a blue moon, it’s likely not a big deal.
But the best alternative to sucralose is a healthy balanced diet – one that also includes real and natural sugars. The key is to focus on nourishing and supporting your body with a healthy, well-rounded diet full of real, whole food. If you shift your focus to how you can best nurture your health, you will naturally no longer need to regularly incorporate artificial foods like sucralose. I would much rather you choose organic coconut sugar, monk fruit, dates or other alternatives from real food instead of any man-made alternative sweetner.
If you need some inspiration on how to incorporate more real, wholesome food in your diet, be sure to head over and check out my recipe library.
How Concerned Should I Really Be When it Comes to Sucralose?
Sucralose is just one of many toxins within our world and environment that can chip away at your health. Avoiding sucralose can certainly help protect you against the damaging effects of this man-made molecule. But at the end of the day, avoiding sucralose and other arttifical sweeteners is just a piece of the puzzle.
Truly protecting and upleveling your health and well-being requires a big-picture approach – full of tiny day-to-day choices about your diet, movement, environment, thoughts, relationships, and more. These small choices have a cumulative effect – all “pieces of the puzzle” that add up to create the picture of your overall health. If you need some help putting these puzzle pieces together, I’ve got you covered.
My blog, YouTube channel, and weekly newsletter are chock-full of helpful tips and resources to simplify healthy living. And if you want to take it further and understand my Functional Medicine approach on a deeper level, you’ve got to check out my new book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith. It’s not only packed with even more science-backed, actionable advice, but I also dive into how the holistic, Functional Medicine approach transformed my life from the inside out.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn just how damaging sucralose can be? What tips do you have for cutting out sucralose and other artificial sweeteners? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Aspartame and Other Sweeteners in Food | FDA
- Sucralose: Facts and Safety of Splenda (webmd.com)
- Everything You Need to Know About Sucralose – Food Insight
- Chemical Found in Common Sweetener Damages DNA | NC State News (ncsu.edu)
- Researchers Warn Against Sucralose After Finding it Damages DNA, Causes Leaky Gut | Food Safety (food-safety.com)
- Gut Microbiome Response to Sucralose and Its Potential Role in Inducing Liver Inflammation in Mice – PMC (nih.gov)
- Full article: Toxicological and pharmacokinetic properties of sucralose-6-acetate and its parent sucralose: in vitro screening assays (tandfonline.com)
- Sucralose Is ‘Genotoxic,’ Linked to Leaky Gut: Study (webmd.com)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.