Psychology Department

Health Psychology Home Page

Papers written by students providing scientific reviews of topics related to health and well being

Search HomeWeight LossAlternative Therapy | Supplements | Eating Disorders | Fitness | Links | Self-Assessment | About this Page |



By Anju Mammen

Date: 10/14/2006


Image from



The Science Behind Sucralose (Splenda ®)

Pros and Cons to Splenda ®

Splenda and Diabetes

What does research have to say about Splenda and diabetes?







     Pink packets, blue packets, yellow packets!  There is a spectrum of colors that belongs to the world of artificial sweeteners that dress the tabletops of restaurants all around the world.  Over the years, researchers have been on a quest to continually improve and add to their collection of artificial sweeteners.  They finally created an artificial sweetener that is claimed to have “no calories” and is created from sugar itself. As more people in the world face the risk of acquiring diabetes, the task to create an artificial sweetener that can allow those suffering with the disease to live a more normal life might have been accomplished.   This chemical wonder is called sucralose, or more commonly recognized as the yellow packet of intense sweetness called Splenda®.




     Sucrose, natural sugar, is a disaccharide, meaning that is made up of two smaller carbohydrate units, glucose and fructose.  The body gains energy from sugars by breaking the bonds of the disaccharide molecule to release energy.   Sucrose is made entirely of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen.

     By chlorinating sucrose, sucralose was created. The red checks in the picture below represent the hydroxyl (alcohol) groups that were replaced in sucrose with chlorine atoms.  The blue checks show where the chlorine atoms are attached.  Simply changing three small, but extremely important, features altered the inherent properties of a natural sugar.  Sucralose is SIX HUNDRED times sweeter than regular sugar.  Sucralose is usually made with malodextrin, a bulking agent, which is used to crystallize sucralose into granules like sugar (  Sucralose is special because unlike earlier sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, it is extremely stable and can withstand high temperatures, which make it ideal for cooking.  Also unlike most sweeteners, sucralose leaves no “unpleasant aftertaste” (



Image taken from Splenda-Clinician’s Guide @



    The following pictures give an idea of how the sucralose molecule binds to the sweetness receptor. Both images attained from



   Donald Thompson a food science professor at Penn State claims, “it interacts with the taste receptors more efficiently than sucrose to generate sweetness (”  Because sucralose has the three chlorine atoms in its chemical structure, it is not recognized as a sugar in the body. Thus it cannot be broken down like other carbohydrates for energy, so it goes undigested through the digestive system

(back to top)






·          No calories


·          No bad aftertaste


·          No affect on insulin or glucose levels (seen in studies)


·          It is a very stable molecule so it can retain its structure in heat, which is useful in cooking and baking. 


·          FDA Approved (


·          Helpful for those suffering from diabetes and obesity.


·          Does not promote tooth decay


Most of these benefits can be further delineated at


·          Empty sweetness causes body to crave carbohydrates. (


·          No calories may mean no calories from carbohydrates, but other ingredients in the diet soda or diet food may add calories, so make sure to “check the fat content of the labels.” (


·          Studies in rats showed that rats that were given sucralose had shrunken thymus glands, enlarged livers and kidneys.


·          No testing done with humans. (


·          “Splenda may alter the taste buds.” – Dorothy Blair, assistant professor of nutrition (


·          Sucralose, like other artificial sweeteners, has laxative effects, including diarrhea and gas. (


·          According to the FDA, sucralose could hydrolyze under extreme conditions of acidity and temperature. (


·          FDA claims that studies have shown that the body might absorb approximately 27% of sucralose. (


(back to top)




Background on Diabetes:


      There are two types of diabetes.  Type I diabetes occurs when the body does not produce insulin, and so insulin shots are given to compensate for the lack of insulin production ( ). Type II diabetes comes about through “insulin resistance,” where the body cannot use the insulin properly to lower blood sugar levels (  Type II diabetes is becoming a very common disease as obesity skyrockets in many developed countries around the world.  Type II diabetes is non-insulin dependent. “Type II diabetes is related to insulin resistance, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes mellitus, which occurs during pregnancy ( ” 


Some suggestions from the Harvard University Health Services website on treating diabetes are as follows:


1.        Find Out What Type of Diabetes You Have.

2.       Get Regular Care for Your Diabetes.

3.       Learn How to Control Your Diabetes.

4.       Treat High Blood Sugar.

5.       Monitor Your Blood Sugar Level.

6.       Prevent and Diagnose Long-Term Diabetes Problems.

7.       Get Checked for Long-Term Problems and Treat Them.














Claims as to why Splenda® could be helpful for diabetics:


    Controlling blood sugar levels is crucial for the survival of diabetics. Splenda® could be beneficial for diabetics because the body does not recognize it as a sugar.  Since the enzymes in the body cannot recognize sucralose as a carbohydrate in order to break it down, sucralose can just pass through the body without affecting insulin, blood- glucose levels.  Some nutritionists and health professionals warn to be careful because the intense sweetness of sucralose (Splenda®) causes a lot of people to crave food because “artificial sweeteners confuse the brain….  It all comes down to the brain’s perception of calories, which can get thrown off whenever artificial ingredients are substituted for whole foods (” I’ve worked with patients with Type-II diabetes, and for them, being able to consume fewer calories is a good thing (” 


(back to top)






     Mezitis, et al. (1996) wanted to find out whether a single high dose of sucralose (Splenda) would affect glucose levels in patients with insulin-dependent and non-insulin dependent diabetes in the short-term.  They tested this by doing a randomized double-blind study, one in which neither the experimenter nor the experimentee knew who gets the sucralose and who gets the placebo, which was cellulose.  They tested thirteen insulin-dependent diabetics (type I) and thirteen non-insulin dependent (type II) diabetics.  The study included a 2-6 week screening phase, a test phase, and a follow-up evaluation. The results of this study showed that the blood glucose levels did not “vary significantly as a function of the treatment or test sequence” for either of the diabetic groups.  The only adverse effect seen in an insulin-dependent patient was a hypoglycemic spell, which occurs when the blood glucose level gets too low.  The researchers claim that this was not an effect of the sucralose.  I did notice that the study was supported by a grant from the McNeil Specialty Products company, which actually are the creators of Splenda ®. A researcher from the company itself also helped to design the experiment, which makes me wonder if there may be some bias in reporting the results, though it does not seem that way since they do mention the positive and negative aspects of the experimentation.  



     Grotz, et al (2003) studied the effect of sucralose specifically on type 2 diabetics.  The experiment ran for 3 months.  The researchers used a “multicenter, double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study (Grotz et al, 2003).” The placebo in this case was cellulose. The study consisted of “a six week screening phase, a thirteen week test phase, and a four week follow-up phase.  The researchers were particularly looking for any changes in the levels of glycated hemoglobin, fasting plasma glucose, and fasting serum C-peptide. By analyzing changes to the three levels, they would be able to reach a conclusion about how sucralose affects “blood glucose homeostasis.” They concluded that there was no significant change in the levels of any of the three elements of blood glucose homeostasis in comparison to the cellulose placebo. Using this information, they support the idea of using sucralose to control the dietary needs of diabetics and obese people.  They do state that there is a link between obesity and type II diabetes.  In fact, they state that the majority of the people who they used in this experiment were obese and suffered from type II diabetes. 


     Reyna, et al (2003) ran an experiment in which they compared the effects of “metabolic and anthropometric improvements” elicited by a diet based on the nutrition standards of the American Diabetic Association (ADA) with a diet that “incorporated fat replacers (beta-glucans) and non-sucrose sweeteners” in patients that had type-2 diabetes.  In their study, they tested sixteen males, who had well-controlled type 2 diabetes.  I was surprised that they did not include females in this study given that females have a very high risk of acquiring type-2 diabetes.  According to the study, the participants performed physical activity for 3 months before starting the study.  Half of the group was given the control treatment, the ADA’s guidelines for a diabetic diet, while the other half of the group were fed the beta-glucans and sucralose-enhanced diet. Beta-glucans are “fat replacers” that are made from oats.  After about four weeks, there was a significant reduction in weight and in body-mass index (BMI) for the experimental group that used the beta-glucans and the sucralose. The control group also experienced a reduction in weight and BMI but it was smaller than the experimental group. The Body-Mass Index was reduced, along with reductions in glucose levels in the blood and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c). There was no significant reduction in cholesterol though.   The study also paired this dietary change with increase in exercise. They discovered that beta-glucans and artificial sweeteners paired with physical exercise is a better way to reduce weight, BMI, glucose levels, and HbA1C (glycated hemoglobin) than the standard method presented by the ADA that did not use fat replacers and sucralose. 



Figure 1.  Comparison of weight and BMI reduction elicited by ADA's diet (white columns) and modified diet (black columns). Data are shown as mean of changes ± SE.* P < 0.004, ** P < 0.001 represent significant differences between diets. n = 8 for each group. Figure 1 taken from full-text article (Reyna et al.)


(back to top)




    Splenda® has made a major impact on society since its arrival especially since the environment into which it arrived was anticipating a newer, better artificial sweetener.  For diabetics, life just became a little bit sweeter, no pun intended! J  Yet, just as with anything else in life, it is important to remember to use Splenda® in moderation.  In relation to the weight loss issues and diabetes, the studies have shown that sucralose (Splenda®) will not work on its own to make a healthier person, but with the necessary lifestyle changes, such as proper diet and exercise, it can significantly improve the user’s quality of life.  It is important to remember that there is more to discover about how sucralose affects the body, but based on the information claimed in the studies done thus far by various researchers and the Food and Drug Administration, sucralose is deemed safe to use as an artificial sweetener for everyone.






Grotz, V. Lee, PhD., et al. (2003). Lack of effect of sucralose on glucose homeostasis in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 103 (12), 607-1612.


Mezitis, Nicholas H.E. MD, et al. (1996). Glycemic Effect of a Single High Oral Dose of the Novel Sweetener Sucralose in Patients with Diabetes. Diabetes Care, 19(9), 1004-1005.


Reyna, Nadia Y., et al. (2003). Sweeteners and Beta-Glucans Improve Metabolic and Anthropometric Variables in Well Controlled Type 2- Diabetic Patients. American Journal of Therapeutics, 10(6), 438-443. 


(back to top)



Psychology Department

The Health Psychology Home Page is produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.

Vanderbilt Homepage | Introduction to Vanderbilt | Admissions | Colleges & Schools | Research Centers | News & Media Information | People at Vanderbilt | Libraries |Vanderbilt Register | Medical Center 

  Return to the Health Psychology Home Page
  Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt