Splenda (Sucralose) Isn’t Giving You Cancer

Why recent headlines about sweeteners are extremely misleading


Pictured: Might contain sucralose, but probably doesn’t — Diet coke is mostly sweetened by aspartame, but there are some versions that have sucralose instead. Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Artificial sweeteners make headlines with an almost boringly predictable regularity. Whether it’s a scary story about heart disease, or some new fears that they’re secretly plotting to blow up Mt Rushmore, there’s always some new worry that makes headlines about sweet things that we put in our bodies.

The news recently is no different. Headlines across the globe have been screaming that sucralose, the artificial sweetener found in Splenda and some cans of Diet Coke, is genotoxic and giving everyone cancer. Apparently if you eat Splenda, rather than losing weight, you’ll degrade your insides into a sludge-like goop. Scary.

The stock photos for sludge were extremely unsatisfying, but here you go: sludge according to Unsplash dot com. Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

Fortunately for all of us who like artificially-sweetened things, the news is not nearly as scary as the headlines suggest. In reality, it’s extremely unlikely that these results mean much if anything for human health.

The Science

The study that has everyone in a tizzy is what’s known as lab-bench research, sometimes called basic science. The authors took sucralose-6-acetate, a product of sucralose that is created in your gut when you eat sucralose, and added it to some petri dishes with rat and then human cells to see what happened. They then looked at several markers of potential cell damage, and found that these were slightly elevated at the highest concentrations of sucralose-6-acetate that they used.

This led them to conclude that sucralose possessed some genotoxic effect, something that is often implicated in cancer, which is where all the headlines came from. In addition, the authors tested sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate on human gut cells, and noticed some similar effects. This led to the lead author arguing publicly that sucralose causes “leaky gut” and that it’s very dangerous to human health.

Pictured: The devil (also does not actually contain sucralose). Photo by Andrew George on Unsplash