Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar and it is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners available to consumers.
Many people use sucralose to sweeten their coffee or tea because it's calorie-free.
Sucralose is also added as an artificial sweetener to more than 4,000 food and drink products that Americans consume.
Commonly marketed as Splenda®, sucralose is sugar that has been chlorinated.
"What that does is prevents your body from understanding it as a source of energy," says Jeremy Morgan, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Basically, your body doesn't know what the substance is anymore, so it is unable to absorb any calories from it.
"Eighty-percent of [sucralose] passes straight through your gastrointestinal track into the toilet," explains Dr. Mike Richardson with Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N. C. "The rest of it is absorbed through the blood and passed through the urine."
This means undigested or unchanged sucralose is sent through the sewer system to your local wastewater treatment plant.
Since most plants are unable to filter out such a small compound, sucralose then exits these facilities and is discharged into our waterways.
According to Morgan and fellow researchers at UNCW, the amount of sucralose that winds up in the environment each year would fill up a dump truck -- and that's only for the Wilmington, N. C. area alone.
Samples obtained from treated wastewater in North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana all contained sucralose.
"We sort of said, 'Wow, not only is this stuff out there, but nothing is happening to it,'" Morgan says.
Traces of sucralose have even been found in the Gulf Stream.
Since sucralose doesn't break down, scientists say that means we could be circulating our sweetener all around the globe.
For now, little is known about the impact, if any, a sweetener-laced ocean could have on the environment and wildlife.
According to the FAQ section on Splenda's website, consumers can be assured that sucralose is environmentally safe. Furthermore, the website cites a range of study results which indicate the sweetener does not accumulate in the food chain.
Meanwhile, researchers at UNCW say only time and additional testing will determine if this is true.
Depending on the source of your drinking water and the purification process at your water treatment plant, researchers say it is possible you could re-ingest sucralose.
Researchers at UNCW we spoke for this story tested the water in their own tap, but they were unable to find any traces of the sweetener.
McNeil Nutritionals, the maker of Splenda, counters that "The statements made by staff at the University of North Carolina Wilmington about SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener (sucralose) and the environment significantly misrepresents the facts. Every global regulatory authority which has reviewed the environmental data on sucralose has determined that sucralose does not pose an environmental risk. The data from Marine Chemistry discussed by the university is not new data, but from a study in 2009 that concludes the "… environmental ramifications of sucralose entering sensitive marine ecosystems are unclear." The study authors also state that sucralose "… does not appear to pose a direct health risk for humans or other life forms on short timescales…" and suggest additional research was needed to assess the longer term impact of sucralose.
The following information is from Virtual Chembook published online by Elmhurst College (Source: http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/549sucralose.html).
The following information is from the website HowStuffWorks (Source: http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/artificial-sweetener8.htm/printable).
The following information is from the Center For Science In The Public Interest (Source: http://www.cspinet.org/new/200502141.html).
The following information is from an NBCNews.com article entitled, "Splenda settles lawsuit over ‘sugar' claim" (Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18618557/ns/business-us_business/t/splenda-settles-lawsuit-over-sugar-claim/#.UC0Oc0SYW2w).
The following information was obtained from FAQs published on Splenda's website (Source: http://www.splenda.com/faq/no-calorie-sweetener#4).
The following information is Marine Chemistry (November 2009) in an article entitled, "Occurrence of the artificial sweetener sucralose in coastal and marine waters of the United States" (Source: http://journals2.scholarsportal.info/details.xqy?uri=/03044203/v116i1-4/13_ootassmwotus.xml).
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