For people with the intestinal disorder Crohn’s disease, Splenda might be a poor choice. Researchers using a mouse model looked at the effects of Sucralose intake over six weeks and saw that the artificial sweetener did not affect mice without a disease similar to Crohn’s. But in mice that had the disease, their gut inflammation got worse. Their work has been published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
"Our findings suggest that patients with Crohn's disease should think carefully about consuming Splenda or similar products containing sucralose and maltodextrin," said the lead author of the work Dr. Alex Rodriguez-Palacios, an assistant professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. "Several studies have examined the ingredients found in this widely available product, separately."
Splenda, a blend of maltodextrin and Sucralose, was brought to the market in 1992 by Heartland Consumer Products. It has been called 600 times sweeter than sugar, and more than 100 billion packets have been sold.
About 1.3 percent of Americans have some form of inflammatory bowel disease, of which Crohn's disease is one type. Affecting the digestive tract, it might include weight loss, fatigue, cramping, severe diarrhea, and bloody stools.
"This is perhaps the closest we can get to provide experimental evidence that these ingredients together induce biological changes known to cause inflammation which could be harmful over time to susceptible animal subjects," Rodriguez-Palacios said. "Our next step would be to run experiments directly in patients, but that is more difficult to conduct given the large variability that is inherent to human genetics, microbiome, and diet."
In the mice modeling Crohn's disease, there were more Proteobacteria compared to the healthy mice. Proteobacteria include microbes like E. coli and salmonella and were found in the intestines of mice that were consuming water spiked Splenda. A molecule called myeloperoxidase that has an anti-microbial effect was also found at higher levels in mice that drank Splenda.
"This study demonstrates that the sweetener induces changes in gut bacteria and gut wall immune cell reactivity, which could result in inflammation or disease flare-ups in susceptible people," Rodriguez-Palacios said. "On the other hand, the study suggests that individuals free of intestinal diseases may not need to be overly concerned."
Although there may be many reasons for chronic inflammation, the researchers suggested that it is possible that other artificial ingredients are impacting chronic conditions like Crohn's disease.
"This suggests that other dietary habits or additives may lead to similar microbiota alterations," said senior author Dr. Fabio Cominelli, a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and chief of gastroenterology at Cleveland Medical Center. "For instance, diet emulsifiers used as food additives have also been shown recently to alter the gut microbiota and promote colitis in mice.
"Other scenarios could put Crohn's disease patients at risk of having exaggerated inflammation as well," he added. "This could include unexpected foodborne bacterial infections which would further recruit myeloperoxidase-containing leukocytes to the intestinal tract and the resultant inflammation."