December 4, 2008

What About Splenda?


My wife has switched from sugar to Splenda, which she now puts in the sugar bowl for all of us in the house to use by the teaspoonful instead of sugar. She is watching her weight, but I’m worried about cancer and things like that. Do I need to be concerned? 

Splenda is an artificial sweetener that is sucralose (derived from sucrose) and when consumed is broken into normal metabolic products. We are unaware of any compelling evidence that sucralose correlates with cancer. Years ago, saccharin was thought to cause cancer in rats, but the dosaging was multiple times higher than humans would ever consume, making the study useless as a basis for advising patients.

The consumption of artificial sweeteners in the United States rose from 70 million to 160 million users between 1987 and 2000, so there are many consumers. The incidence of obesity went from 15 percent to 30 percent over the same time period. 

Sugar substitutes can lower caloric density of foods and beverages; however, in uncoupling sweetness and energy, we may be doing ourselves a disfavor. 

Rats fed sugar substitutes ate more food and gained more weight than rats fed sugar-sweetened food. Studies show that, while both are sweet on the tongue, they affect the brain differently. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), tests  demonstrated that sugar engages the parts of the brain that respond to food rewards and then switch off the craving for more; whereas the artificial sweeteners do not.

It is likely that people using artificial sweeteners who tend to be overweight gain this extra weight at least partly because they are not satisfied with the food they eat.

I am 68 years old and a new Adventist. I wonder whether all the talk I hear about the "Adventist lifestyle" has much meaning for me. I must have sown my oats by now, don't you think? 

My wife's stepfather, at age 83, told me he was finally convinced of the benefits of being a vegetarian and would quit eating meat. I must say, when he told me that I thought, Too late. 

But hold on! You are only 68, and that's a big difference! It has been shown in older folk that lowering cholesterol, even when you have heart disease, lowers your risk of heart attack by up to 50 percent. This may be because plaque in our arteries can become more stabilized, or more compacted, and less likely to break up and cause a coronary clot. Additionally, diet and exercise may lower blood pressure sufficiently to reduce the risk of stroke.

As we age, our muscles become weaker and our bones thin. Exercise can prevent this process from being rapid. Dr. Richard S. Rivlin wrote a nice a review about lifestyle in the older person in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and pointed out that some older folk need to eat more and some should eat less.

I don't think you can have a last-minute reprieve from a lifetime of unhealthful living, but the sentence may be reduced to a lifetime on parole.


Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., FRCPC, FRCSC, FACOG, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department; Peter N. Landless, M.B., B.Ch., M.Med., F.C.P.(SA), F.A.C.C., is ICPA executive director and associate director of Health Ministries.
Send your questions to: Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Or you may send your questions via e-mail to [email protected]. While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend that you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health.