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Study Raises Questions About Artificial Sweetener, Splenda

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A new study conducted at Duke University has linked the artificial sweetener  Splenda to health problems. The release of the study has already prompted one consumer advocacy group to call on federal regulators to take a look at Splenda, but the maker of the popular sweetener is dismissing the study’s findings because it was funded by a group that lobbies for the sugar industry.

The Duke University Splenda study was posted today on the  Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health website. The study was conducted using male rats over a period of twelve weeks. The researchers found evidence that, in the animals studied, Splenda reduced the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50%, increased the pH level in the intestines, contributed to increases in body weight and affects the P-glycoprotein (P-gp) in the body in such a way that crucial health-related drugs could be rejected.

The Sugar Association, an industry lobbying group, funded the Duke University study of Splenda health affects. But one of the lead researchers of the study, Dr. Mohamed B. Abou-Donia, told The New York Times that the Sugar Association had “no input” into the study’s findings and conclusions.

McNeil Nutrionals, the maker of Splenda, has battled with the Sugar Association in the past. Splenda’s main ingredient is sucralose, which is manufactured in laboratories. While a sugar molecule is used in the process, there is no sugar contained in the end product.  In 2004, the Sugar Association, and industry lobbying group, sued McNeil in federal court, alleging that the Splenda slogan, “made like sugar, so it tastes like sugar” misled consumers.  The Splenda slogan has since been changed to  “it’s made from sugar. It tastes like sugar. But it’s not sugar.”

McNeil also criticized the fact that the Splenda study used lab rats as test subjects.  But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also tested Splenda on rats before approving it for sale to the public.

In light of the study, the public advocacy Citizens for Health asked the FDA to accept a petition it filed over a year ago and initiate a review of its approval of  Splenda.    Citizens for Health also wants  the agency to require a warning label on Splenda packaging cautioning that people who take medications and/or have gastrointestinal problems avoid using Splenda.

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