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Ep. 36 – The latest on Sucralose

Sucralose is in health news again. Or is it really something else? Dr. Chet Zelasko looks at the most recent study on artificial sweeteners on this edition of Straight Talk on Health

Welcome to Straight Talk on Health, I’m your host Dr. Chet Zelasko. Straight Talk on Health is a joint production with WGVU in Grand Rapids MI. I examine the world of health. Whether it’s research that makes the news, another miracle diet, or a new food fad, I look at the science behind them, and let you know whether it’s real or not. You can check out other things that I do on my website Drchet.com and sign up for my free emails.

In the past week, I've gotten more emails about the artificial sweetener sucralose than I ever have before. I haven't seen more commentaries on sucralose in health news feeds then I have in that same time frame. Everybody seems to be talking about sucralose. The problem is that the issue really isn't the sweetener itself. It is a contaminant that may be found in the sweetener called sucralose-6-acetate. On top of all that, the primary author of the study is continually muddying the results of the study by using the terms sucralose when they mean sucralose-6-acetate.

The sweetener sucralose is as safe as it always has been. Some people are opposed to artificial sweeteners of all types and that's fine. But there's nothing in this research update nor any of the other studies on sucralose that presents any type of major concern. That doesn't mean it's for everybody. There are genetic factors and microbiome issues that may affect some people. But that aside, there's nothing to be fearful so let’s check out the study that’s attracting so much attention.

Let's start with what the researchers did. The attempted to examine six historical claims about sucralose. Sucralose

1) passes through the gut unchanged.

2) has no effect on the microbiome

3) has no effect on intestinal tract

4) does not accumulate in human tissue

5) has no effect on metabolism including blood glucose or insulin.

6) will not disrupt the DNA and thrown in just for fun, it is heat stable.

To say the tests to examine these questions were complicated is an understatement. From the time they did the original testing on whether sucralose was safe to enter the food supply, meaning that it was generally regarded as safe, the technology has increased thousands of folds to be able to answer very specific questions on very minute amounts of chemicals. What concerned me the most is that the tests used did not actually measure the impact of sucralose 6 acetate on genes and the microbiome. They used algorithms to assess the potential for damage, not necessarily the actual damage.

One more thing. They did not actually test the heat stability in any of the studies so there are no results to give.

As I said, this paper was about a contaminant that may be found in commercially available sucralose that is used in drinks and baking products called sucralose-6-acetate. If you remember that I stated that the tests were complicated, I'm going to give you the results of the eight tests in as simple fashion as possible

Results of the studies. As I willingly admit, these types of tests are beyond my area of expertise. However, I used the authors own interpretation of the results, whether they actually could interpret the tests or the results were explained to them. These are their conclusions from the results section

The first test assessed the potential for altering DNA. The results indicated that sucralose-6-acetate was genotoxic but sucralose was not.

The second test assessed the potential for DNA damage in specific types of cells called TK6 cells. The results for sucralose-6-acetate were that it was genotoxic. They did not test sucralose but prior studies demonstrated that it did not damage DNA in these cells.

The third test also assessed the potential for causing damage to DNA. The results for sucralose-6-acetate was somewhat positive that it did while the results for sucralose were not.

The fourth test assessed mutations in bacteria. Neither sucralose 6 estate nor sucralose induced mutations.

The fifth test assessed electrical resistance and permeability in colon: epithelial cells. Both sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate affected monolayers of colon cells grown in test tubes.

The sixth test attempted to examine the same type of colon cells for damage to RNA sequencing. A total of 12,553 genes were analyzed. There were changes with sucralose-6-acetate but in no specific pattern. In other words, in that we don't know what many of those genes do, we don't know whether this is impactful or not. As for sucralose versus the control group only two genes out of the over 12,000 seemed to have some sort of variation.

The seventh test examined microsome stability from liver cells from a variety of animals including humans. There seemed to be some impact of both chemicals on this single layer of cells.

The eighth test looked at the inhibition of cytochrome P450 detox enzymes in human liver microsomes. Sucralose-6-acetate seem to impact two of the detoxification genes while sucralose had no impact.

What do the results mean in the real world? It's difficult to say. Our bodies are not just single layers of cells. When the body makes a mistake in DNA, that mistake is addressed and the biochemicals are recycled before any mutation becomes permanent. When you do bench studies, there is no entire defense mechanism present. We have no idea how the body handles it in the body. Testing cells is not testing living organisms.

The major question that I had related to the chemicals used in the testing. They contracted with chemical companies to have sucralose made to a standard level of .5% sucralose-6-acetate. They also had sucralose-6-acetate made to a standard level of .3% purity. Neither of those are used commercially. The little yellow packets are primarily fillers dextrose and maltodextrin because the sucralose used is so sweet, only a tiny amount is required. Why not use what's commercially available, test that for impurities, because that's closer to what people will actually be using to sweeten drinks and in cooking.

As I said before, not everyone can use artificial sweeteners like sucralose due to pre-existing genetic mutations and compromised microbiomes. Having said that, I don't see that this research has brought us forward about the actual sweetener used by human beings in their everyday lives because the testing was actually about a contaminant, not the sweetener itself. What we do have is 35 years’ experience with sucralose as a sweetener. To date, there has been no large-scale studies that have raised any question about its impact on the health of humans. When there is more to know, I’ll be sure to keep you informed. Until next time this is Dr. Chet Zelasko saying health is a choice people. Choose wisely today and every day.

Dr. Chet Zelasko is a scientist, speaker, and author. Dr. Chet has a Ph.D. and MA in Exercise Physiology and Health Education from Michigan State University and a BS in Physical Education from Canisius College. He’s certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist, belongs to the American Society of Nutrition, and has conducted research and been published in peer-reviewed journals. You can find him online at drchet.com.
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