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New Research with Mice Reveals the Dangers of Sucralose and Other Sweeteners

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Sugar is known to cause a number of health problems in humans, and sugar substitutes may be no better. In May 2023, the World Health Organization issued new guidance discouraging the use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), citing the findings of a systematic review of the available evidence, which suggests using NSS does not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children and may lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults. New studies continue to confirm these findings, uncovering troubling new issues with all types of sweeteners.

Sucralose Suppresses the Immune System, Increases Cancer Risk

Sucralose, a zero-calorie sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than sugar, may be dangerous to our health.

According to a new study from North Carolina State University, Sucralose, which is sold under the brand name Splenda, has a range of negative side effects, including a leaky gut lining, increased risk of inflammation and cancer, and damage to DNA.

Sucralose was approved for use as a general-purpose sweetener for foods in 1999, under the assumption that it remains in the same form as it passes through the body. However, the researchers found that in some cases, gut bacteria can transform sucralose into a different molecule called sucralose-6-acetate.

When the researchers exposed human blood cells to sucralose-6-acetate, they found that it damages DNA, which could increase the risk for cancer and other health conditions. They also found that exposing human intestinal tissue to sucralose-6-acetate increased the activation of genes associated with inflammation, oxidative stress, and cancer.

In addition, both sucralose-6 acetate and sucralose in its pure form damaged binding elements in intestinal cells, causing the gut to become leaky, which allows molecules earmarked as waste to move from the gut into the body rather than being expelled as intended. A leaky gut can lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and can worsen chronic liver disease.

In a different study, researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London examined the effects of sucralose on the immune system. The team administered different dosages of sucralose to mice and compared their immune reactions to mice that received a similar dosage of a different artificial sweetener, sodium saccharin.

The researchers found that mice that received high doses of sucralose had lower T-cell levels compared to those that received saccharin, suppressing their immune systems. While a suppressed immune system is undesirable for most people, the team is investigating how high dosages of sucralose might be used to treat people suffering from autoimmune diseases.

Aspartame & Anxiety

Aspartame—which was approved by the FDA as a tabletop sweetener in 1974 and as a general-purpose sweetener in 1996—could cause anxiety, according to a new study from Florida State University.

Sold under brand names including Nutrasweet and Equal, aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and can be found in thousands of food products. Previous studies have linked it to serious health problems, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, stroke, dementia, cognitive problems, and mood disorders.

In the latest study, researchers found that mice given free access to water sweetened with aspartame in an amount equivalent to 15% of the FDA-recommended maximum daily amount for humans showed more anxious behaviors. Not only did those mice show elevated signs of anxiety (measured through maze tests), the results were apparently transferred to their offspring and their offspring’s offspring.

The researchers also looked at the nervous systems of the mice and found significant changes in the amygdala, which plays a part in regulating anxiety. When the mice were given diazepam (brand name Valium), they stopped displaying anxiety behavior across all affected generations.

The research has not been replicated in humans, but could have implications for people who consume products sweetened with aspartame—and their children.

Sugar is Harmful to the Gut

While sugar substitutes can cause numerous health issues, sugar has its own problems. A high-sugar diet has already been linked to obesity, chronic kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease, and a new study from the University of Pittsburgh has found that a high-sugar diet can cause intestinal issues and exacerbate symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Using mouse models, the team compared the effects of standard and high-sugar diets on IBD, mimicking IBD symptoms in the mice by treating them with a chemical that damages the colon. Not only did the mice fed a high-sugar diet experience poor intestinal healing compared to the standard diet group, but by the ninth day of the 14-day experiment, all of the high-sugar mice had died. All the mice on the standard diet survived for the full 14 days.

The results could indicate that consuming excess sugar can be especially damaging for the 6 million people worldwide who suffer from IBD.

Sugar’s Role in Alzheimer’s Disease

People with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and a new study from Wake Forest University may have discovered why.

The researchers found that increased sugar intake and elevations in blood glucose can cause a buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain, which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the researchers, the discovery not only provides one possible reason why people with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, it also may lead to a possible method for the prevention and treatment of the disease.

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