Sucralose, a chemical found in the popular zero-calorie sweetener Splenda, has been shown to cause damage to DNA, raise the risk of cancer and cause leaks in the gut lining, according to a new study from North Carolina State University.
Splenda is used as a sugar substitute in thousands of foods, beverages, desserts and candy. The product contains 1.10% sucralose. It is made by Tate & Lyle in the U.K.
The study, published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, found that a metabolite of sucralose, called sucralose-6-acetate, is "genotoxic."
That means it breaks down the genetic material that makes up DNA, explained Susan Schiffman, PhD, senior author of the study and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University.
When DNA strands break and are then rearranged and repaired, that can increase the risk of cancerous cells forming, previous studies have shown.
FILE-Packets of the popular sugar substitute Splenda are seen on a table. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
In addition, both sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate were shown to cause damage to the "tight junctions" that hold together the intestinal barrier, leading to a "leaky gut."
"A leaky gut is problematic because it means toxins that would normally be flushed out of the body in feces are instead leaking out of the gut and being absorbed into the bloodstream," Schiffman told Fox News Digital.
The researchers conducted eight separate experiments to measure the safety and risks of both sucralose and sucralose-6-acetate, which is a chemical byproduct of sucralose and is considered an impurity.
"An important point is that even if the contaminant sucralose-6-acetate is totally removed from sucralose products, it is still generated by bacteria in the gut," Schiffman warned.
This isn’t the first research to flag potential dangers related to sucralose.
"Previous studies have shown a wide range of adverse effects from sucralose, including dysbiosis (including damage to good bacteria in the gut) and alteration of blood glucose and insulin," Schiffman said.
"Consumers have a right to know what they are consuming," she added.
Dietitian shares sucralose concerns
Michelle Routhenstein, a New York-based heart health dietitian at EntirelyNourished.com, was not involved in the sucralose study, but said she was not surprised by the findings.
"In the last couple of years, we have been seeing more and more research studies pointing to the inflammatory nature of artificial sweeteners, primarily impacting the gut microbiome," she told Fox News Digital.
Routhenstein recommends avoiding sugar substitutes as much as possible because of the association between underlying inflammation, oxidative stress and cardiovascular disease, she said.
"Sucralose and other sugar substitutes are also considered ultra-processed foods, which have been linked to increased risk of subsequent cardiovascular events in individuals who have had a heart attack," Routhenstein added.
Those who are at risk of cardiovascular disease, have cancer or suffer from any inflammatory conditions could be particularly susceptible to risks, the dietitian noted.
"While artificial sweeteners may be tolerable in generally healthy individuals, they should be eliminated if there are any signs of bloating, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea," she said.
New findings may refute earlier safety studies: toxicologist
Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C., reviewed the study findings and advised caution.
"Although artificial sweeteners like sucralose were promoted as healthy alternatives to sugar for decades, improvements in medical technology have allowed scientists to perform more extensive testing on these chemicals and their potential toxicities," she said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
"The results of these studies show that these compounds may be associated with significant health effects," she added.
While the short-term consumption of sucralose and other artificial sweeteners is unlikely to cause harmful side effects, Johnson-Arbor said, this particular study found that sucralose can accumulate in tissues after continued exposure, suggesting that chronic or long-term consumption of the sweetener may be more dangerous than previously thought.
When the earlier safety studies were performed, the identification of sucralose-6-acetate as an impurity may not have been fully realized, she pointed out.
"These results are concerning because they show that such impurities may have significant — or even greater — toxicity than the original compound," the toxicologist said.
Sweetener industry maintains safety of sucralose
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved sucralose for use in 1998 in 15 food categories. A year later, the agency approved the chemical as a general-purpose sweetener.
After reviewing this latest study from North Carolina State University, the Calorie Control Council in Washington, D.C., defended sucralose as a safe product that has been "extensively tested."
The Council also called into question the reliability of the new study.
"This study was conducted in a laboratory environment, which cannot mimic the complex mechanisms of the human body, even when human cells are used," said Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council, in a statement sent to Fox News Digital
(Study author Schiffman maintained that "the study was done in human tissue, so it is directly relevant to potential human health issues.")
"For the millions of people who rely on low- and no-calorie sweeteners to help manage body weight and reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and obesity, it is important to know the facts, which is that sucralose has been rigorously studied by scientific and regulatory authorities around the world and is safe to consume," Rankin added.
The International Sweeteners Association, based in Brussels, also said it stands behind sucralose.
"Sucralose, like all other low/no calorie sweeteners, plays an important role in providing consumers choice with sweet-tasting options with low or no calories," wrote an ISA spokesperson in a statement provided to Fox News Digital.
"Sucralose has undergone one of the most extensive and thorough testing programs conducted on any food additive in history, resulting in consensus on its safety throughout the global scientific and regulatory community," the spokesperson added.
Fox News Digital also reached out to Tate & Lyle, the maker of Splenda, but the company had not provided comment by publication time.