Study finds sucralose produces previously unidentified metabolites

August 27, 2018 by Matt Shipman, North Carolina State University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Sucralose, a widely used artificial sweetener sold under the trade name Splenda, is metabolized in the gut, producing at least two fat-soluble compounds, according to a recent study using rats. The finding differs from the studies used to garner regulatory approval for sucralose, which reported that the substance was not broken down in the body. The new study also found that sucralose itself was found in fatty tissues of the body.

The researchers used the same experimental model used by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to assess the safety of foods based on accepted daily intake. In this case, that involved administering an average dose of 80.4 milligrams/kilogram/day to 10 for 40 days. Urine and feces from the rats were collected and assessed for those 40 days, and for the following two weeks. At the end of the two-week follow-up period, fatty tissue from a subset of the rats was also tested.

The researchers, from North Carolina State University and Avazyme Inc. - an analytical testing company—used techniques designed to detect both fat- and water-soluble metabolites. That's significant because industry did not use state-of-the-art techniques that targeted the full suite of fat-soluble metabolites in the studies it submitted to the FDA when seeking FDA approval for sucralose.

"Our techniques were more suited to extracting and preserving fat-soluble metabolites," says Susan Schiffman, an adjunct professor at NC State and co-author of the recent study. "We were also able to use state-of-the-art analytical techniques to identify those metabolites.

"We found two metabolites in urine and feces throughout the sucralose dosing period," Schiffman says. "Those metabolites could still be detected in the urine 11 days after we stopped giving the rats sucralose, and six days after the sucralose itself could no longer be detected. That's particularly interesting, given that the metabolism studies that the FDA's approval were based on reported that ingested sucralose was not metabolized."

Specifically, the metabolites were acetylated compounds, which are highly lipophilic—meaning they are easily dissolved in fat. That means they are more likely to stick around in the body.

In addition, the researchers found that sucralose itself was detected in the adipose, or fatty, tissues of rats two weeks after the rats had stopped receiving sucralose.

"Based on previous studies, we know that sucralose can be passed on by nursing mothers in their breastmilk," Schiffman says. "And, among other findings, we know that sucralose can reduce the abundance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Our new study shows that sucralose is also creating metabolites whose potential health effects we know little or nothing about.

"As a result, we feel that it may be time to revisit the safety and regulatory status of sucralose," Schiffman says.

The paper, "Intestinal Metabolism and Bioaccumulation of Sucralose In Adipose Tissue In The Rat," is published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A.

Explore further: Popular artificial sweetener not so sweet

More information: Volker Bornemann et al, Intestinal Metabolism and Bioaccumulation of Sucralose In Adipose Tissue In The Rat, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A (2018). DOI: 10.1080/15287394.2018.1502560

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5 / 5 (2) Aug 27, 2018
Sucralose was approved and marketed on the assertion that it was neither absorbed nor metabolized. We know that it is absorbed in human beings. This study is troubling in that it indicates sucralose may be metabolized in human beings. (Metabolism in rats may not mean sucralose is metabolized in human beings.)

Additional studies should be done and the metabolites found in rat studies should be checked for in human beings.
not rated yet Aug 27, 2018
It is more likely that the host microbiome is metabolizing the sucralose and thereby being altered in composition.

Intestinal bacteria are known to acetylate xenobiotic compounds and studies of sewage and different soils noted that sucralose is metabolized by microorganisms including bacteria. Sucralose was previously found to alter bacterial composition in the rat intestine as well as interact with components of first pass metabolism.
not rated yet Aug 27, 2018
The question remains. Is sucralose being metabolized in human beings. If it is, what are the intermediary and final products and are they toxic?
not rated yet Aug 27, 2018
surprise surprise, it's fuking garbage. there is no sane reason to consume this garbage. Whatever 'reasons' are not valid, including weight loss etc. If you don't already understand it's unfit for consumption, that is naive. The fact it's approved etc, is not some reliable vindication. It's crap. Don't eat this crap.
not rated yet Aug 27, 2018
I agree with you and do not eat sucralose. But many people do. We need to know if it is introducing toxic chemicals into their bodies.
5 / 5 (3) Aug 29, 2018
Sucralose and the truth, or as we know the truth.
[q[@medicalxpress Based on previous studies, we know that sucralose can be passed on by nursing mothers in their breastmilk," Schiffman says. "And, among other findings, we know that sucralose can reduce the abundance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Our new study shows that sucralose is also creating metabolites whose potential health effects we know little or nothing about
There has always been a doubt about sucralose as a healthy alternative to sugar and now we now the truth is not the whole truth as sold by the purveyors of the various sucralose manufactured products; as there is no harm in a spoon of brown sugar in that mug of hot coffee as long as the side effects of all those calories are subsequently dealt with a brisk walk.
not rated yet Aug 30, 2018
An unknown metabolite is a small molecule that can repeatedly be detected but whose chemical identity has not been identified yet. Though unidentified and unclassified, these compounds can still be differentiated and quantified in a metabolomics experiment based upon spectral data. Identification of unknown compounds is labor consuming and cost-intensive, however, Creative Proteomics provides effective methods for prioritizing, studying, and ultimately identifying uncharacterized metabolites is of great importance for metabolomics study. Successful identification of unknown metabolites will exert a great impact on biomarker discovery and omics-research.
not rated yet Sep 03, 2018
It was my understanding sucralose is a sucrose molecule with chlorine attached to it. Theoretically, there shouldn't be other chemicals present. The bonded chlorine generally makes it too large to pass through the gut membranes, but some does. From reading much earlier studies in humans and if I remember correctly about 26% of sucralose was digested (chlorine removed and or passed through the gut membranes one way or another). I would assume the digested products would be metabolized. The article doesn't explain well how sucrose or the attached chlorine provide the metabolites found and how they were created.

We know excess sugar in the diet makes large numbers of people obese, sick and increases mortality and especially the US. Everything we do and a lot of things we don't - carry risks. We assess those risks in order to manage them effectively.

Let's understand the comparative risks (sugar vs. sucralose - if any) of the metabolites before we set our collective hair on fire.

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