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What Is Sucralose and Why Is It In OTC Medicine?

Understanding Sucralose As An Ingredient In Medicine

Dr. Regina Hardin Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Regina Hardin on October 12, 2021

Medically reviewed by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology

Sucralose is a very common artificial sweetener used in a variety of products, including foods and beverages and even pharmaceuticals, and the appeal of sucrose is that it adds no calories or carbohydrates to the products in question.

That said, this type of sweetener, and artificial sweeteners as a whole, are widely debated because of potential health risks associated with them. This is your complete guide to sucralose and why you might find it on the ingredient list of your OTC medicines.

What Is Sucralose and What Is It Used For?

Sucralose is made through a process involving sucrose, which is regular table sugar, but sucralose itself is not sugar. Instead, sucralose is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener used to add sweetness to foods, beverages, and medicines without adding calories or carbohydrates, and because of this, on the surface-level, it is seen as a healthy alternative to sugar.

To actually make sucralose, three chlorine atoms are used to replace three hydrogen oxygen groups in a sucrose molecule, and this results in the artificial sweetener known as sucralose, which is around 600 times sweeter than traditional sugar.

The zero-calorie artificial sweetener known as SPLENDA® is an example of a retail sweetener that makes use of sucralose, and store brand named sweeteners often use sucralose as well. Chewing gum, dairy products, syrups, and canned fruits are just a few food products that often incorporate sucralose for sweetness, but over-the-counter medicines, too, often use sucralose to improve taste.

Is Sucralose Safe? Will It Harm My Health?

With over 20 years of research support and more than 100 studies conducted, sucralose has been shown to be safe. The FDA reports that the acceptable daily intake of sucralose is about 5 mg per kilogram of body weight- for a person weighing 150 pounds, this works out to be around 340 mg of sucralose, which is the amount found in nine cans of diet soda or 28 packets of sweetener.

That said, there may still be some health risks associated with sucralose, and one of these risks has to do with your gut microbiome. In studies on mice and rodents, sucralose was shown to upset the microbiome balance and lead to increased inflammation.

Long-term inflammation is associated with issues like obesity and diabetes, but more research is still needed in order to find out whether or not sucralose impacts the human microbiome the same way that it impacts the microbiome of a rodent.

Additionally, when it comes to the impact that sucralose has on your blood sugar and insulin levels, this link remains largely unknown. Some research shows that sucralose does not have any kind of significant effect on your blood sugar or insulin, but at least one study has shown that sucralose may raise blood sugar and insulin levels in people with obesity who do not usually consume artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners like sucralose are often turned to as a means of reducing sugar consumption, but sucralose may actually be just as addictive as traditional sugar, meaning that when you consume it, you may start to crave even more sweetened food products.

What is the Connection Between Sucralose and Weight Loss?

Sucralose may seem like a great way to enjoy something sweet without having to worry about extra calories and carbohydrates. That said, more research needs to be done to confirm whether or not sucralose actually helps prevent unwanted weight gain.

Certain studies have found no link between zero-calorie artificial sweeteners and body weight, but other studies have found that people who replace traditional sugar with low-calorie sweetener alternatives weigh slightly less on average.

Even more, some studies suggest that people consuming diet sodas with artificial sweeteners may be more likely to drink more of these products, ultimately leading to a higher caloric intake than people opting for sodas with regular sugar.

Because there is so much conflicting information, more studies are needed to prove or disprove the link between sucralose and body weight.

Should I Avoid Artificial Sweeteners?

On a larger scale, artificial sweeteners are very controversial, and their effects on human health are still unknown for the most part.

While plenty of research on artificial sweeteners has been conducted, results have been inconclusive. Some studies have focused on the safety of artificial sweeteners while other studies have honed in on the possibility of adverse effects, but many of these studies have limitations. For example, many studies have been done on animals rather than humans, have too small a sample size, or have found results that are not statistically significant. Thus, more studies need to be conducted in order to come to a more solid conclusion about the effects of artificial sweeteners on human health.

That said, whether or not to avoid artificial sweeteners largely comes down to your personal risk assessment. If artificial sweeteners are not something that you are worried about, you may not need to change anything at all about your current diet and lifestyle.

On the other hand, if you feel like the potential risks are not worth it, the solution may be easier than you think. Over-the-counter medicines are a common source of artificial sweeteners, so an easy way to reduce your consumption of sucralose may be to start switching out your OTC medicines for cleaner alternatives.

Clean medicines are generally medicines that contain the important active ingredients, but do not contain the artificial additives that many commercially available products make use of. Choosing OTC medicines with natural flavorings rather than artificial sweeteners can be a step in the right direction.

That said, you should keep in mind that sucralose is not the only artificial sweetener out there, and if you are looking to reduce your intake of these sweeteners, you should be on the lookout for other common forms of artificial sweeteners too. This can be difficult on your own, which is why it is a good idea to consult your doctor for advice if you are having a tough time finding clean products free from the ingredients you do not want.

Even more, your doctor will be able to answer any questions you might have, and they will also be able to explain anything to you that you might be having difficulties with on your own. When it comes to choosing new OTC medicines that you have not tried before, it is critical that you carefully follow the safe usage instructions, and if anything is unclear, consult your doctor for a professional opinion. Even clean medicines can do some damage if they are misused, so take care to follow proper dosages.

It may not be completely necessary to avoid artificial sweeteners entirely, but no harm will come your way from doing so. Plus, doctors generally recommend that daily sugar intake is limited, so limiting your intake of artificial sweeteners will help you accomplish this as well.

Even if artificial sweeteners are not doing you any harm, it is unknown exactly what impact they do have on your body, so it is up to you to decide whether or not to start opting for products that are free of this ingredient.

Sucralose: The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, sucralose is probably safe as long as you are not consuming very massive amounts of it. Artificial sweeteners are largely regarded as safe for consumption, but animal studies have shown that these types of sweeteners have the potential to disrupt the microbiome of the gut.

Furthermore, artificial sweeteners may not be the perfect alternative to sugar that people initially believed them to be, and consuming artificial sweeteners may have the same addictiveness as consuming regular sugar. This means that when you consume sweetened products, you might crave even more of these products, and it becomes a cycle that is tough to break.

All of this being said, artificial sweeteners might actually have prevented unwanted weight gain from excess caloric intake, but more research still needs to be done both regarding the benefits of artificial sweeteners and the possibility for adverse effects.

If you do a personal risk assessment for artificial sweeteners and decide that you want to start cutting down the amount of artificial additives in the products you use on a regular basis, OTC medicine is a good place to start.

Sucralose is commonly used, especially in liquid formulations, to improve the taste of the medicine, and many commercially available products contain sucralose or another artificial sweetener for this purpose. Opting for cleaner OTC medicines can help you reduce the amount of sucralose you ingest each day.