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A Duke University study just published in The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health suggests that the artificial sweetener Splenda, touted by its producer, McNeil Nutritionals, as a healthy, sugar- and calorie-free alternative to table sugar, may actually cause significant health problems.

According to the study, the consumption of Splenda (the brand name for the generic manufactured chemical sucralose) contributes to obesity, destroys the “friendly” intestinal bacteria necessary for colon health and the prevention of colon cancers, and inhibits the proper absorption of prescription drugs.

Splenda, marketed in the form of crystals in little yellow packets, was introduced in late 1999, and since then has gained roughly two-thirds of the $1.5 billion artificial sweetener market, steadily edging out its rival Equal (aspartame), which has been linked to certain cancers and other serious problems, partly due to the public perception that Splenda is a healthier product because according to its slogan, it’s “made from sugar.”

Technically, sucralose begins as sugar, but the final product is made by replacing some of the natural molecules found in sugar with chlorine atoms, which places Splenda in the same chemical category (organochlorides) as the deadly pesticide DDT.

While it’s safe to consume some organochlorides, such as those naturally found in beans and seaweed, the burden of proof for the safety of Splenda must lie with its producer. Another study by the Journal of Head and Face Pain has suggested the sweetener to be a trigger for migraines. At extremely high doses, it has also been shown to alter the DNA as well as break down the immune systems of rats. Until more is definitively known about this dubious product, it would be wise to limit your use of it.

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