Recently on the Precision Nutrition blog there was a review of some research on the potentially adverse health effects of consuming artificial sweeteners like Splenda. I am going to give an overview of the study and discussion and give my take, but if you would like a more in depth look strictly at the research, check it out here. I also recently blogged about antibiotics and their effects on intestinal flora, right here.
This research focused on the administration of Splenda to rats to see the effect on their intestinal flora. Though not identical, the human digestive system is not all that dissimilar from rats, so results from this type of work usually translate quite well.
There were several different dosages given along with a control group not receiving any Splenda. The lowest treatment group had an intake below the expected daily intake of a human, based on the rats bodyweight so the percentage of sucralose to bodyweight would be the same. The next lowest group was above expected intake, but still well below acceptable levels for health concerns. The last two treatment groups were above the acceptable intake.
The study lasted 12 weeks and had some scary results. In the lowest treatment group, well below even the expected daily intake let alone levels considered to be the anywhere near the upper limit of safe, the amount of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tracts had decreased by nearly 50%! Even after a 12 week washout period where no Splenda was consume, that lowest level intake group still had nearly 54% less good bacteria than before they began Splenda consumption. This effect was seen at all dosages and only got worse as the treatment does went up. That is some scary stuff right there, doesn’t make those artificially sweetened yogurts sound so appealing now does it? Talk about self-defeating!
This destruction of intestinal flora can weaken your immune system and cause plenty of digestion issues. There was some other interesting points in the article about weight gain. The lowest treatment group actualy gained weight from the Splenda, as did the third treatment group. The second and highest did not. Odd, but one possible explanation is that the body has what Helen Kollias called “threshold levels of compensation to sucraslose” (the artificially sweet part of Splenda). That is why there was weight gain in the lowest group, but not the next as the higher intake caused a compensation of specific proteins to remove it, the next highest dose didn’t trigger a higher compensation so there was some weight gain seen there, and the highest dose reached a new threshold where the removal proteins were upregulated yet again. This is a double edged sword that Helen goes into more detail about, some interesting stuff.
In conclusion, we need more research, preferably on human subjects, but still I suggest resorting to consuming as little Splenda, or any artificial sweetener at that, as possible. Focus on real whole food, preferably local, seasonal and usually organic. I understand it’s not easy, but your GI tract and your immune system will thank you.
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