The Trouble with Sweet: Part 5, Sucralose, the “Yellow Stuff”

December 12, 2007

The Trouble with Sweet:  Part 5,  Sucralose, the “Yellow Stuff” 

 Competency # 11 Sugar Reference: Neuroimage.  20008 Feb 15; 39(4):1559-69. Sucralose.  Made from sugar, tastes like sugar.  End the word with –ose and that means, to us chemistry majors, that it’s a sugar.  Dextose, glucose, sucrose are all sugars.  How about sucralose.  I always assumed it was just a clever combination of here-to-fore uncombined sugars with the magic of modern chemistry.  Fool our taste buds and not absorb it.  Get sweet flavor with no cost.  I’ve purchased boxes of it at Sam’s Club.  In fact, three boxes at a time so that we didn’t have to go back so often.  I’ve carried packets of it in my pocket so that I can add it to my tea at work when there is none at work. Whoa, Nellie.  There is another side.  Let’s start with how it was invented.  

At a chemical lab in London in 1975, a graduate student, Shashikant Phadnis, was attempting to make a new insecticide.  He was adding sulfuryl-chloride to sugar solutions to attach chlorine atoms to the sugar.  DDT is a compound with multiple chlorine atoms on an organic molecule.  He was asked to “test” the new compound.  

He heard, “taste”.  So, he did.  Wow! It was sweet.  1,6-dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-beta-D-fructofuranosyl-4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha-D-galactopyranoside.  Whew.  No wonder they shortened the name to something that sounds so nice.   Sucralose.  Splendid idea.  Don’t you think?  Not even close to DDT. The problem, in my book, is that chlorine is not attached to organic molecules in nature.  We have chloride salts all over the place.  Table salt is sodium chloride.  That’s what your blood is.  This dissolves.  

But chlorine, attached directly to a carbon atom – doesn’t exist in nature.  And neither of the two sugars in sucralose are a glucose so there are no enzymes in your body that can digest them, so it isn’t digested.  This is what concerns me.  Your body attempts to digest the sugars, but can’t and finds itself with a chlorine atom introduced inside your cells.  Other “organochlorines” are chemicals with names of DDT, dieldrin, aldrin, lindane, chlordane and heptachlor (All insecticides). 

 How about PCBs: those are poly-chlorinated biphenyls.  Used in transformers and now banned everywhere because of their persistent chemical dangers.  The problem is that these compounds sneak into your fat cells and last many, many years.  It can take years to develop signs of toxicity.  Sucralose has been on the market less than 20 years. How long was sucralose studied?  That’s the problem.  We don’t have any long-term studies.  You are the current lab rat.  

There are ONLY 6 human studies on sucralose.  One is a case report of a single migraine patient.  The longest was a 13-week study.  The only longer unpublished study was by the drug company that went for six months, and that only reviewed the blood sugar results in diabetics.  The drug company making it says that over 100 studies show its safe.  Chase them down and you find studies like how much dental decay you get.  That’s not about long-term safety.   So, how many humans were actually involved in the short studies?  191.  Your safety is now resting on the short-term studies of 191 people.  The FDA’s final ruling on sucralose is that only 11-27% is absorbed.  Only.   Search the web.  “Everyone” says it’s safe.  Go to Whole Foods.  They don’t sell it.

WWW.  What will work for me?   Here is my fear.  Many organochlorides have long-term toxicity.  Wellness and healthy living is about preparing my metabolism for the long, healthy haul.  I grew up in the DDT era, benefiting from its fabulous ability to protect me from malaria.  And I’ve watched bald eagles almost disappear from DDT.   I’ve seen enough massively marketed “wonderdrugs” in my career that end up being withdrawn from the market.  And with the current structure change in our FDA, I’m not confident that our societal structures are robust enough to protect me.  The secrecy and manipulation on the marketplaced seems unfortunate.  The close chemical structure of sucralose to DDT with its inclusion of chlorine makes me intensely nervous.  In the world of the internet, I would want the FDA to put its deliberations and reasons out there for all of us to see.  And until I know about longer studies in humans, I’m going to let someone else be the lab rat.  That’s a huge change for me.  I have a box of it in my basement.  Anyone want it?

The column written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI (262-784-5300)