Sucralose is for Diabetics Not, Scientists say. But How Significant is the Cholesterol Increase They Observed?

This way of consuming Splenda is quite certainly going to increase your cholesterol levels ;-)
I guess, all of you will still remember the show Carl and I did on the "Pro-Insulinogenic Effects of Artificial Sweeteners" (read more), right? The one where I tried to point out that even if there was a meager change in the insulin response, this would only be a problem if there was any truth to  narrow-minded condemnation of insulin as the deadly obesity hormone, so that, in the end, the whole hoopla turned out to be way less daunting than some scare-mongers would have it.

Yet while something deep inside of me is telling me that the latter is probably going to be the same with the recently published study that's at the focus of today's SuppVersity article, cannot refute that the data from that very rodent study that was published in the Journal of Nutrition Sciences does clearly suggest that...

...sucralose increases cholesterols!

That certainly doesn't sound so scary to you, as it does to someone who still adheres to the "cholesterol is the root cause of all evil" paradigm, yet still. The fact that the administration of  11 mg/kg body weight of SPLENDA® over the course of 6 weeks to "intensifie[d the already existing] hypercholesterolemia in STZ-induced diabetic rats" (Saada. 2013) does sound as if there must be something to the rumors about sucralose being one of the main ingredients of devil's excrements.

Would having your coffee with Splenda instead of sugar make this cookie even more hazardous to your glucose levels and what about your waistline? Read more about the effects of artificial sweeteners on glucose-management, insulin and obesity in a previous article.
Now 130-150mg of sucralose per day is unquestionably a whoppy dose of artificial sweeteners. After all, this stuff is approximately 600x sweeter than sugar. Sounds like a total overkill, but if you do the math, i.e. 150mg x 600 = 90,000 mg, you will realize that this is not more than the non-caloric sweetness equivalent of ~1.5 Snickers bars. And if the figures a Scivation rep mentions in a post on the most popular bodybuilding website on the planet are correct this would be exactly 10 servings of their highly popular BCAA formula. Considering the fact that for most people Xtend is probably not the only dietary source of sucralose in the diet it is thus not a totally unrealistic dose (especially for those diabetic or non-diabetic sugar addicts, who are using splenda as a means to sweeten their tea, coffee and whetever else, as well).

Good you've made it past the introduction

That being said the message that sucralose "intensifie[d the already existing] hypercholesterolemia in STZ-induced diabetic rats" (Saada. 2013) appears to be even more scary.

Fortunately (or unfortunately for the "sweeteners are devil's excrements"-faction out there), this is not your average "Pubmed-Warrior blog", where the authors read a headline copy and paste the conclusion of the abstract and try to sell it as "science news" and I do not leave you hanging with the inappropriately overgeneralizing conclusion of the author's that
"[...] diabetic people consuming high amount of sucralose must check their lipid profile to avoid diabetic complications" (Saada. 2013)
Now, it is obviously right that diabetics should "check their lipid profile" on a regular basis, but if you look at the actual study outcomes, it is hard to argue that this would be particularly important for those of them who use SPLENDA® on a regular basis.
Figure 1: Changes in blood glucose, insulin, triglyceride and total (TC), HDL, and LDL cholesterol, as well as the TC/HDL levels after 6 weeks on 150mg/day sucralose (Saada. 2013)
After all, the "dangerous" increase in cholesterol the scientists observed in their lab animals (remember: we are not even 100% sure the same is going to happen in human beings) is not just accompanied by highly desirable desirable reduction in glucose (-22%) and triglycerides (-22%), it also leaves the CVD-relevant ratio of total to HDL cholesterol literally unchanged (+2%, n.s.).

Moreover, if you look at the way statins help managing cholesterol, but increase diabetes risk, you could even speculate that there is a yin and yang connecting the two metabolic pathways, where a lower strain on the one side will precipitate a higher strain on the other. Within this paradigm, the increase in cholesterol, which is by the way something many people who are "going paleo" will see, as well, could be a totally normal part of a "balancing" process that has nothing to do with the pathological overprodcution (always remember this is not about eating too much cholesterol) of highly oxidizable small and very small density lipoproteins people fear like the plague.

In addition to reductions in blood glucose and triglyceride compared to cornflakes & co, the regular consumption of whole eggs increases HDL's ability to carry lipids out of the macrophages. If these accumulate, they will turn the macrophage into pro-atherogenic foam cells (learn more).
Bottom line: At least in my humble opinion, the results of this study don't imply that diabetics should stay away from sucralose. In the end, the benefits of lower glucose & triglyceride levels will outweigh the "downsides". This is all the more true, in view of the fact that we (a) the total-cholesterol-to-HDL-ratio remained essentially the same and (b) don't have data on the changes in lipoprotein particle profile. After all, improved glycemia and reduced triglyceride levels often go hand in hand with heat-healthy changes in the particle size distribution that is still totally ignored by way too many researchers.

That being said, the reduction in 10% reduction in TBARs, a marker of oxidative damage, clearly indicates that the rats with "increased" cholesterol levels were less inflamed than their sugar guzzling peers.

Needless to say that the same applies for the healthy rodents, where the changes in blood glucose, triglycerides and total, HDL and LDL cholesterol were much less pronounced, but the tendencies identical.

  • Saada H, Mekky N, Eldawy H, Abdelaal A. Biological Effect of Sucralose in Diabetic Rats. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 2013; 4(7a):82-89.
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