While it might not be completely true that Splenda kills gut bacteria, consuming such on a regular basis will lead to less "good" bacteria residing in the gut which can have negative consequences, which is the reason we listed it as a "food to avoid" in our Foods for Gut Flora post.
It's a cheap alternative to sugar, many times sweeter, and often called a "no calorie" sweetener (although not completely true), but the downsides to ingesting such may make it not worth mixing in with your morning cup of coffee in the first place.
*Natural 0 cal sweeteners like Stevia might also not be such a good choice.
Artificial sweeteners have been getting a really bad rap lately. With the trend in healthy, organic eating, synthetic food products and sweeteners like Splenda, Equal, Sweet N Low, etc. have been taking a hit.
The truth is out and it makes complete sense. Splenda and other similar sweeteners confuse the body and throw things out of wack. Humans have evolved without any sort of Splenda-like substance for millions of years so it's no wonder that consumption of such comes with some negatives, such as gut bacteria being altered in a way that is not good.
What Exactly Is Splenda?
Splenda is not a type of artificial sweetener, but rather a brand name for a sucralose-based artificial sweetener manufactured by the Tate & Lyle company.
The Tate & Lyle company along with researchers at two different universities in England discovered the sucralose substance in 1976.
It's zero calorie sweetener that our bodies don't recognize and therefore it passes through our systems without being absorbed.
*Note: Splenda also contains dextrose and maltodextrin, which do contain a small amount of calories.
The process of making sucralose actually starts with table sugar. Regular old sugar is then is restructured on a molecular level, the three hydrogen-oxygen groups being replaced with three chlorine groups. The result = a stable sweetener that is around 600x sweeter! and less healthy!
Yes... It CAN Affect Your Gut Bacteria
Processed foods are known to cause gut problems, often from a result of being unhealthy to your gut bacteria, and Splenda is about as processed as it gets.
"Processed" is a loosely used term to describe foods that have been everything from canned or frozen, to being altered on a molecular level like Splenda.
A 2018 study found that many non-nutritive sweeteners alter gut bacteria by having a bacteriostatic effect, inhibiting growth. Now this could be seen as a good thing when it comes to harmful bacteria like E. coli, but not so good with "good" bacteria that reside in your gut and are important during digestion.
Another study that was done in 2008 and published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that consumption of Splenda lead to both a reduction in good fecal bacteria and an increased fecal pH, both of which are adverse side effects.
And apparently a pretty small amount can have a measurable effect. According to an article on CNBC, bacteria found in the digestive system can become toxic after being exposed to only 1 mg per milliliter of sucralose and other artificial sweeteners.
It might not "kill" the gut bacteria, but if not that it can at least inhibit growth, which leads to lower amounts in the end anyhow.
Why This Is a Problem
Gut health is incredibly important and unfortunately something that is often overlooked. It plays a big role in things like...
- Food fermentation
- Immune cell development
- Enteric nervous system regulation
... and an unhealthy gut can lead to unwanted side effects such as...
- Weight gain
- Acne, eczema and other skin issues
- Anxiety and depression
- Joint pain
- Gas and bloating
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- and more...
Got a problem with acne? I bet you never thought about your gut health.
Depressed? Yes, believe it or not this could be due to an unhealthy gut.
Do your knees hurt? This could also be a gut problem too.
The gut is important and unfortunately Splenda isn't a friend of it. The gut doesn't really know how to react to this foreign substance and it leads to confusion.
Other Potential Side Effects of Splenda
- It Could Cause Liver Damage
- Regular ingestion has shown to lead to toxic effects on the liver in rats.
- Increases Chances of Type 2 Diabetes
- Using sucralose as a sugar substitute may not be such a good idea if trying to avoid type 2 diabetes. Consumption has been shown to alter glucose, insulin, and glucagon-like peptide-1 levels and responses, which raise the risk of such a disease.
- More Inflammation
- Sucralose consumption has also been shown to increase inflammation on a cellular level.
Is It Really Worth The "0" Calorie Benefit?
Who reading this actually likes the taste of Splenda? Probably no one.
Most people who use this sugar substitute do so because they are looking for a zero calorie alternative. And (although not zero calories) Splenda happens to be one of those cheap and "safe" alternatives.
*Note: Splenda was approved by the FDA with very little evidence of its safety for human consumption. For those consuming it on a daily basis for years, there is no telling what side effects it may lead to.
It Might Cause Weight Gain
Using Splenda because it is a "no calorie" sweetener?
You might want to stop. The alterations it can lead to in your gut bacteria can just defeat the purpose and lead to weight gain, among other unhealthy side effects of course.
It Might Increase Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Using this because you have type 2 diabetes or are at risk of developing such?
We discussed above how Splenda can actually increase the risk.
So What's The Point?
Of course there are downsides to anything, including raw/natural sugar, but it seems that a synthetic alternative like Splenda might be the worse choice.
Humans have been eating sugar for millions of years, in which fruits have high amounts of. While the bananas, grapes, oranges and so on weren't always as rich and nutritious (and high in sugar) as they are today, they have always had sugar and the human body has learned to deal it. In fact, very little sugar even makes it to the end of the digestive tract, where the gut bacteria live, unlike Splenda that makes it's way through without the body knowing what to do with it.
High amounts of sugar have also been shown to have negative effects however. So moderation is key.