WEIRD SCIENCE: How Splenda Was Discovered

The following article comes from my book, Splenda: Is it Safe Or Not?

It seems that each of the artificial sweeteners have been discovered by accident, and sucralose is no exception. It is yet another strange "fortuitous discovery" of yet another chemical sweetener.

In 1976, Tate & Lyle, a British sugar company, was searching for ways to blend sucrose (sugar) with laboratory chemicals. In collaboration with Professor Leslie Hough's laboratory at Queen's College in London, halogenated sugars were currently being tested. Responding to a request for "testers" for these experimental chlorinated sugars, foreign graduate student Shashikant Phadnis signed up for "taste tests." His participation in the research project led to the discovery that chlorinated sugars are sweet and have a potency hundreds to thousands of times greater than sugar.

Excited about their new discovery, the manufacturers of Splenda began spreading the word about their new sweetener, but they do admit real sugar (unprocessed sucrose) is better for the body than sweeteners from the laboratory: "Sucralose is made from sugar, but is derived from sucrose (sugar) through a process that selectively substitutes three atoms of chlorine for three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sucrose molecule. No artificial sweetener made in the laboratory is going to be neither natural to the body nor safer than unprocessed sugar," they state.

The Tate & Lyle study was originally investigating the sweetness of sugar spin-offs, specifically those substituted with halogens. Halogens are powerful elements that help dissolve one substance into another. The researchers at Queen's College determined that five closely related halogens - fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and astatine (see below) - change the sweetness of the sugar molecule, with chlorine and bromine being the most effective.

The Halogens:

  • Fluorine - poisonous pale yellow gas
  • Chlorine - poisonous pale green gas
  • Bromine - toxic and caustic brown volatile liquid
  • Iodine - shiny black solid which forms an inspirational beautiful violet vapor when heated
  • Astatine - (means unstable); a man made radioactive chemical that does not occur in nature

Chlorine was chosen because as a lighter halogen, it more easily dissolves in other substances, and combines readily with the sucrose for sugar substitution. The chlorine has to be chemically altered, though, to be very tightly bound so that it doesn't break down inside the human body.

Food For Thought
If the chlorine in sucralose does break free before it is completely excreted from your body, doesn't it make the contents of sucralose a carcinogen because chlorine causes cancer in humans and other animals?

Canada became the first country to approve the use of Splenda in 1991, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted American marketing approval in 1998. Johnson & Johnson purchased the rights to develop sucralose in the United States as a commercially available product. They created an individual company, McNeil Specialty Products (renamed McNeil Nutritionals), as a part of the Johnson & Johnson corporate umbrella for the exclusive purpose of marketing the new sucralose product "Splenda" in 2000.

How Do They Make Splenda?
Splenda (sucralose) is created in the lab, using a complex process involving dozens of chemicals you and I can barely pronounce (let alone consume). Basically, the chemists force chlorine into an unnatural chemical bond with a sugar molecule, resulting in a sweeter product, but at a price: a huge amount of artificial chemicals must be added to keep sucralose from digesting in our bodies. These toxic substances also prevent (hopefully) the dangerous chlorine molecules from detaching from the sugar molecule inside the digestive system, which would be a carcinogenic hazard.

To illustrate the alarming "chemical soup" required to create sucralose, I have listed here the actual process for producing this sweetener. I highlighted the chemicals in bold type for emphasis.

According to the Splenda International Patent A23L001-236 and PEP Review #90-1-4 (July 1991), sucralose is synthesized by this five-step process:

  1. sucrose is tritylated with trityl chloride in the presence of dimethylformamide and 4-methylmorpholine and the tritylated sucrose is then acetylated with acetic anhydride,
  2. the resulting TRISPA (6,1',6'-tri-O-trityl-penta-O-acetylsucrose) is chlorinated with hydrogen chloride in the presence of toluene,
  3. the resulting 4-PAS (sucrose 2,3,4,3',4'-pentaacetate) is heated in the presence of methyl isobutyl ketone and acetic acid,
  4. the resulting 6-PAS (sucrose 2,3,6,3',4'-pentaacetate) is chlorinated with thionyl chloride in the presence of toluene and benzyltriethylammonium chloride, and
  5. the resulting TOSPA (sucralose pentaacetate) is treated with methanol (wood alcohol, a poison) in the presence of sodium methoxide to produce sucralose.

And the Splenda marketers stress that sucralose is "made from sugar but is derived from this sugar through a process that selectively substitutes three atoms of chlorine for three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sucrose molecule."

While this is true, it is a deceptively simple description, implying that sucrose is a simple benign sugar substituted with chlorine, thereby, safe for consumption. According to research on the hydrolysis of sugars, just the process of inserting chlorine into the sugar molecule (hydrolysis means breaking it into smaller molecules) ultimately allows these chemicals to penetrate the intestinal wall.

So sucralose becomes a "low-calorie" sugar with a complicated process that results in Splenda's chemical formal: 1,6-dichloro-1, 6-dideoxy-BETA-D-fructofuranosyl-4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha-D-galactopyranoside.

This is Splenda. And they say it is a perfectly benign sugar molecule.

More Hidden Chemicals In Splenda
Did you know if a product includes an ingredient that is a proven carcinogen but it is less than two percent of its total chemical make-up, it does not have to be listed as an ingredient, nor does it have to be tested for product safety or labeled as a carcinogen? Just as an example, a food product could have 2 percent rat poisons as a minor ingredient, but does not have to name the rat poison on the ingredient list. Needless to say, with the number of chemicals used in manufacturing food products today, the ingredient lists would be too long to fit on any of the labels.

The FDA states in their Final Report on Splenda that sucralose is "produced at an approximate purity of ninety-eight percent." The other two percent does not have to be reported to the FDA, nor listed as added ingredients. So what's in the other two percent?

  • acetone
  • acetic acid
  • acetyl alcohol
  • acetic anhydride
  • ammonium chloride
  • benzene
  • chlorinated sulfates
  • ethyl alcohol
  • isobutyl ketones
  • formaldehyde
  • hydrogen chloride
  • lithium chloride
  • methanol
  • sodium methoxide
  • sulfuryl chloride
  • trityl chloride
  • toluene
  • thionyl chloride

Although manufacturing guidelines specify limits on these hidden substances, there are no assurances these limits have been met since they do not have to be reported. In addition, the FDA does not presently require an Environmental Impact Statement for sucralose, so it's open season for the rules at present.

Now you can see why I particularly do not recommend sucralose during pregnancy or for children, especially after reading this list.

Posted February 2009 | Permanent Link

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