Saturday, 30 April 2011

Splenda Scandal

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Recently more and more articles have been making their way around the internet regarding Splenda, making a variety of claims. One of the most shocking articles was from the website, which at first glance appears as a news website. The article “Killing household ants with Splenda” 1 at first seems like an interesting housewife’s tip for getting rid of ant problems; however it is in fact an ill researched and poorly argued attack on a synthetic sweetener company. The author is Jasmine Jafferali, writing for the Chicago Family Health section of the Examiner, so it would be fair to assume she would be a medical doctor in order to be giving health advice, unfortunately this is not the case. Apparently her background is fitness means she is qualified to give advice on health issues. The article itself made 7 statements about Splenda, which it claims are researched facts, but is in reality alarmist comments in order to get an emotional response from the reader. It included statements such as Splenda was originally developed as an insecticide, it’s not ‘real food’, it contains toxic chlorine, and making a link between chlorine and cancer. The final statements were most shocking by saying that chlorine during pregnancy will affect the child’s anatomy and then made the comment “people that consumed diet drinks were 41% more likely to be overweight than those who did not”. However surely the logical reason why people who drink diet drinks tend to be more obese then people who do not, is probably due to the fact that obese people that are looking to loose weigh will want to drink diet products, where as people who have a normal weight are less likely to drink diet drinks, because they are not seeking to loose weight. The diet drinks containing Splenda or similar artificial sweeteners cannot be blamed for causing obesity just because there is a correlation, this does not prove causality. The comments in this article are designed to scare people, as most of the general public are likely to have heard of Chlorine before, and know that its used to sterilise swimming pools etc. and so would be worried at the thought of their sweetener containing chlorine, without considering that household table salt is Sodium Chloride (NaCl) and is perfectly harmless.

Sucralose is an artificially produced chlorinated Sucrose molecule, which is more stable, has no calorie content and is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Sucralose has undergone intensive testing for extended periods of time in a variety of laboratory animals before being approved by the FDA for human consumption. The molecule itself is broken in two when ingested, and then is excreted in an unaltered form. 92.8% of the sucralose is eliminated from the body via the faeces and urine when 1mg/kg body weight per day is ingested, and safe acceptable daily ingestion of Sucralose is determined to be 15mg/kg of body weight based on extensive testing 2. A research publication evaluating the toxicity of Sucralose concluded with the statement “The global population is presenting rises in overweight, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, hyperlipidemia and hypercholesterolemia ….. As a result, there is acceleration in the use of light or diet products, and in the consequent consumption of sweeteners” This highlights how vital new research and scientific discoveries are in the field of healthcare, however this poses new challenges to educate the public and reducing the fear and uncertainty, which inevitably become alarmist, ill researched comments and articles online and in the media.

Surprisingly, simply typing ‘Splenda chlorine’ in to Google in order to research Splenda, returns a whole variety of websites outlining the ‘evils’ of Splenda. One of the top results was for the website selling an entire book about Splenda entitled “Splenda: is it safe or not?” More shockingly however was the website which is an open attack against Splenda, which is in fact provided by The Sugar Association, which represents sugar beet and sugar cane farmers across America. This seems like a clever method of attacking the competition and damaging the reputation of a leading company who was gaining an increasing market share at the expense of the sugar farmers. This is hardly an unbiased source and the information available to the public regarding Splenda is confusing and conflicting at best. It is understandable that people can feel wary of new discoveries, but synthetic sweeteners have undergone rigorous testing before being approved as safe for the public, and since it is being used in so many products and in so many countries around the world it should be intuitive that it must be safe otherwise it would have been detected before now and taken off of the market. It has been studied intensively in laboratories and health clinics, and no significant associations have been found. Obviously there are going to be some people who take these products and then have ill health effects, but that does not mean causality and are more likely to simply be coincidence.

E Markham (2011). Splenda Scandal Blogspot

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