Much research has been devoted to studying the effects of artificial sweeteners on human health. And while aspartame and saccharin are considered carcinogenic, not as many studies have been conducted to test sucralose, which goes by the brand name Splenda.
However, just last week the Center for Science in Public Interest -- a medical watchdog group with an advisory board comprised of doctors -- downgraded the rating status of sucralose from "safe" to "caution" in its Chemical Cuisine guide.
The move comes as a result of a new and unpublished study by an independent Italian laboratory that found that the sweetener caused leukemia in mice.
"Sucralose may prove to be safer than saccharin, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium, but the forthcoming Italian study warrants careful scrutiny before we can be confident that the sweetener is safe for use in food," says CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson in a statement.
The study in question is still pending review, but if proven, would mean sucralose is a carcinogen.
Lisa Lefferts, a senior scientist with CSPI, says that despite not having full study data, just the abstract, the groups feels it is necessary to warn the public.
"When there is evidence that something causes cancer, we take that pretty seriously. [Sucralose] caused cancer in the animals. We thought that we should pass that information on, and couldn’t, in good conscious, say it was safe,” Lefferts tells TakePart.
However, the company that makes Splenda, McNeil Nutritionals, argues that the Italian study does not follow conventional standards for assessing chemical safety.
Lefferts counters that the study actually uses superior standards that are better able to detect cancer.
Aside from the link between sucralose and cancer, another recent study published in April suggests it also causes spikes in blood sugar or increased insulin levels, which could have implications for diabetics.
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When given a choice between a sugar-filled beverage or an artificially sweetened drink, what would you choose?
According to the CSPI, you should still choose artificially sweetened drinks over sugary ones, but your best bet is to choose seltzers or seltzers with fruit juice.
And as for aspartame, commonly found in many diet sodas, it gets a rating of "avoid" in the CSPI guide.
"The bottom line is that three independent studies have found that consumption of aspartame causes cancer in rodents. That should be reason enough for the FDA (and other governments) to eliminate aspartame from the food supply," reads the group's website.
In the meantime, the plant-derived sweetener Stevia/Rebiana is considered "safe" to consume, though it does have an unpleasant after taste.