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Splenda: The Truth?

Splenda May Induce Moods Swings and Trigger Emotional Outbursts!

And you don’t even need to consume it. Read for yourself:

“The stuff in the yellow packets will fester in your colon for years.  It causes renal failure and enlarged thymus in rats! It’s made from chlorine! Would you want to sweeten your food with chlorine? And have you heard the story about how it was invented? A guy in a lab was trying to make a pesticide, messed up the mix, and spilled a bit on his hand—it was sweet! Now we’re using something that was intended for use as a pesticide to sweeten our food!”

“But It’s made from sugar.”

That’s a lie, you corporate Splenda fat cats!”

“They’ve been using it in Canada for much longer, and they’re fine. Plus there’s  a crazy Canadian baker lady who uses Splenda to sweeten everything! It’s ok for diabetics, too!”

“Are you on something? Like Splenda? It IS NOT ok for diabetics!”

The FDA says it’s safe for human consumption, as do some world health organizations.”

“You trust the FDA? The FDA regularly approves poison for consumption.  And many countries don’t approve Splenda for humans! Lies!”

Lots of hysteria for a (supposedly) zero-calorie sweetener. Just give it to me straight: How many yellow packets can I consume before my vital organs start shutting down?  How much Splenda does it take to seal off my colon like a Chilean coal mine? Or maybe, just maybe…can I enjoy a few packets a day with literally ZERO deleterious effects?

CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT SPLENDA IS ALL ABOUT?

I will admit that I enjoy having Splenda or sucralose products as an option, and based on my current knowledge, I don’t think moderate consumption is a big deal. Obviously many people disagree, touting “the hidden dangers of Splenda,” “the Truth About Splenda,” and “The Bittersweet Truth About Splenda.”  Haters abound, and maybe for good reason.

But as of now, I’m unconvinced. Most of these “truth about” sites seem to rehash the same basic arguments, so I’ll pull a section from one, and explain why I believe much of the case against sucralose amounts to evidence-based hysteria.

For now, let’s go with an excerpt from “The Bittersweet Truth About Splenda”:

If you were told to ingest a biologically alien synthetic chemical whose presence on this planet did not predate 1976, and whose structure is only a few atoms away from the deadly pesticide DDT, and you knew that not only were there no long term human safety studies performed on it, but that it had been already proven in tests to have following adverse health effects:

…would you still consume it? Of course not! And yet, millions of Americans (including our precious children!) are doing exactly that by consuming Splenda.

Unfortunately, the bulk of this “argument” demonstrates a typical unwillingness to discuss facts without getting hysterical. Articles like “The Bittersweet Truth” don’t deliver the whole truth, as you will see below.

“Biologically Alien Synthetic Chemical” and “atoms away from the deadly pesticide DDT” make me want to build an underground bunker and get ready for the end. They’re scare tactics, plain and simple. Is the author suggesting that ingesting Splenda is similar to ingesting DDT? And if not, why mention it, other than the obvious fright factor? (For a commentary on the DDT comparison, click here).

It’s the Nicholas Sparks’ version of argument. Highly emotional, makes you want to hold someone, but in the end you’re staring at the bottom of a half gallon of ice cream, asking yourself how you sunk this low.

But Studies Have Proven Splenda Is Dangerous. Right?

Sort of. Sucralose consumption has been linked to all sorts of nasty ailments like the ones mentioned in the list above.  However, articles like “The Bitterswet Truth” are particularly misleading: they simply proclaim that “tests” have established a connection between shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage), enlarged liver and kidneys, etc. without mentioning that the tests were on rats, rabbits, and few other mammals. Many people may know this, but it is reasonable to expect anyone reporting this information to mention that the test subjects were rodents.  In fairness, many sucralose Hystericals do acknowledge this fact, even if this one doesn’t. Still, those are some pretty nasty side effects. Even if the tests were on animals, the stuff can’t be good for people, right?

The Big Money Question

I have yet to see an anti-sucralose source address the following question: How much sucralose was administered to the rats, and how much sucralose are humans supposed to consume?

The Acceptable Daily Ingestion (ADI) of sucralose for humans is 15 mg/kg of body weight/day (Goldsmith &and Meckel, 2001).  How much sucralose were they pumping into those rats with shrunken thymuses and spleens? How about 10g/kg/day!

It’s like this: Rats took on 200 times the ADI for humans without side effects. Rats showed a toxic response at doses of 2794-6406 mg/kg of body weight per day! Even at doses of 700-3000 mg/kg a day, there were no indications of a toxic response.

I’ll say it again: Rats took on 200 times the ADI for humans without side effects. This “biologically alien synthetic chemical” sounds kinda wimpy. If it were an alien ray gun, you’d have to shoot a rat 200 times before the little guy would even get a bad case of the farts.

In better words:

The rodents were fed ~1,500 mg per kg of bodyweight per day for 104 weeks with absolutely no adverse effects whatsoever. This was therefore determined to be the highest no-adverse-effect level (HNEL)…. in order for a 160-pound human to reach an amount equivalent to the HNEL, he’d have to ingest 1,500 twelve-ounce sodas every single day (HNEL).

That’s a lot of yellow packets, and I have to conclude that there is a lot the Hystericals are failing to mention:

  1. First, I had to dive into an academic journal to find some of this information.
  2. Second, I have not seen it mentioned ONCE on the Splenda=mass destruction sites, even though some of the sites reference these studies WITHOUT mentioning the dosage levels.
  3. Third, the thymus/spleen stuff is everywhere, but you find nary a mention of how much sucralose it took to do the damage. I think the hysteria may be more pathological than the Splenda.

The Truth?

I’m not saying sucralose is good for you. I’m not even saying it’s not poisonous. But based on what we know, it looks like it takes a heck of a lot of it to do damage. I accept that there are no major “long term” studies on humans, so for now “we don’t know” seems to be an accurate answer to my “how bad is it” question. It’s not exciting, scandalous, or apocalyptic, but for now, I think it’s the closest thing to the truth.

Photo Credit

References:

RODERO, A. B.; RODERO, L. S. & AZOUBEL, R. Toxicity of sucralose in humans: a review. Int. J. Morphol., 27(1):239-244, 2009.

Goldsmith, L. A. & Meckel, C. M. Sucralose. In: Nabors, L. O’B. & Gelardi, R. C. Edit. Alternative sweeteners. 3. ed. New York, Marcel Dekker, 2001. pp.185-207.

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