Splenda may damage gut bugs

splendaA handful of researchers from Duke University recently split a group of 50 male Sprague-Dawleys rats (i.e., your basic lab rat) into five equal groups. One group got water with its standard rat chow. This was the control group. The other four groups had their water spiked with the high-potency artificial sweetener Splenda.  The doses were 100, 300, 500, and 1,000 mg of Splenda per kg of body weight for the “volunteer” rats. All groups either downed good old water or their spiked water daily for the next 12 weeks.

According to lead researcher Professor Mohammed Abou-Donia, “The dosage levels were selected because they span the range of values below and above the accepted daily intake (ADI) for sucralose [and ingredient in Splenda] of 5 mg per kg, daily established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” In other words, the researchers were trying to basically mimic what the average citizen might consume daily – or slightly more.

At the end of the 12-week study, researchers noted significant reduction of beneficial bacteria in the Splenda groups. For example, healthy bifidobacterium and lactobacillus bacteria were reduced by 37% and 39% respectively with the lowest dosage of Splenda. These reductions were relative to the control group.

Interestingly, while all the rats gained a little weight hanging out during the 12-week experiment, the groups consuming the diet spiked with Splenda gained the most weight. The trend – though not a perfect fit – revealed that the more Splenda consumed the more weight gained. The researchers were also concerned with some enhanced gene expression in specific regions in the Splenda groups “which are known to limit the bioavailability of orally administered drugs,” according to the Duke researchers.

The reduction of healthy bacteria in our Splenda rats was also accompanied with a change in the pH of the rat colon. That is, less acidic. Both the reduction of beneficial gut bugs and increase (less acidic) pH is not a good thing and would skew the balance of bacteria in the rat gut to the point that pathogenic bacteria may gain some ground – not good.

As you can imagine, the good folks over at McNeil Nutritionals, part of Johnson and Johnson, which markets Splenda, were peeved by the published results. Predictably they are claiming “the study was flawed” and the study was nothing more than a “Sugar Association-funded rat study.” Even though the study was just published, Splenda got wind of the results prior to publication this summer and sought legal action. And this is where it gets weird.

In July, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fisher, who is not a scientist, ruled that the results of the rat study cannot be extrapolated to people and are therefore “irrelevant”, according to a statement by Splenda folks. The court also noted that the researchers’ opinions about the study could be misleading. Take that big suga!

Not amused by the courts comments, in an interview Professor Mohammed Abou-Donia, lead researcher of the “rat” study, said: “The Judge accepted our study and conclusions as valid, but decided that because it was done in animals, it should not be extrapolated to humans. Despite the fact that Splenda was approved for use based on animal, mostly rat, studies.”

I guess the judge is unaware that pretty much ALL medical research into human disease has a “rat lab” component.

Take home message: If you have been using Splenda in your morning coffee or tea – or using in baking – you might want to do a little more research or cut back a tad. If you are one of those creatures of habit and can’t give up your Splenda, you might want to eat a little more of our pizza as each and every slice contains the prebiotics (and a diversity of fiber) that have been clinically proven to promote the health and growth of the very bacteria Splenda seems to be reducing.


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