There was a lot of interest in the previous post on Splenda as a migraine trigger. Splenda is now celebrating 10 years on the market – but is it something to celebrate?
Before we revisit the topic, here’s a sampling of the comments (read full comments here):
- I’ve been using Splenda for everything for the last one to two years and haven’t noticed any difference with migraine attacks…
- Yes!!! Splenda triggers migraines in me. I used to chew sugar free gum and after about 5 minutes, I’d get this nauseous sick, kind of headache…
- At first I thought it was caffeine, as the migraines stopped abruptly once I stopped taking caffeine, but further self-testing made it clear it was the Splenda I took in the coffee that triggered the migraines, not the caffeine itself…
- I have used Splenda for the past 4 years and haven’t noticed any decrease/increase in either my migraine or cluster headeaches…
- Yep, Yep, It’s all a trigger to me! I think my favorite sweetner is plain sugar in moderation…
Dr. Grotz defends Splenda
After the report in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain in September 2007, Dr. V. Lee Grotz wrote a letter to the editor as a follow-up. Dr Grotz is the Director of Product Safety for McNeil Nutritionals, the division of Johnson & Johnson that makes Splenda.
He writes: While it is important to report and analyze such cases for potential safety signals, drawing conclusions about causality from such limited data can be inappropriate.
Of course, Dr. Grotz knows that the original article wasn’t drawing conclusions – it was simply drawing attention to some evidence that there may be a relationship between migraine and sucralose (the key chemical in Splenda), and asking for further study.
I’ve heard defenders of Splenda say that it’s the "most studied additive ever". However, as we see from Dr Grotz’ response, there are no studies on sucralose as a migraine or headache trigger to draw from. Studies on humans, particularly long term studies, are not found in abundance (if I’m wrong, please show them to me!). It’s not surprising – sucralose was just discovered about 32 years ago, and as I said has only been on the market 10 years.
Side note: Earlier this year, a study on rats indicated that Splenda may contribute to weight gain and may cause levels good bacteria in the body to drop. Is the same true for humans? The battle of the trials continues! (more on Splenda study)
In his letter, Dr. Grotz basically gives reasons why trials so far seem to indicate the chemical is generally safe and nonallergenic (different, of course, than being a migraine trigger). He mentions the current uncertainty over migraine triggers, and points out that reducing calories along with getting exercise can "valuable in managing health". (Why did he have to add in exercise? Scratching your left ear and getting exercise is also valuable for health!)
Is there disagreement about migraine triggers? Absolutely. Since we’re still so much in the dark regarding migraine, we’re also very much in the dark regarding what triggers attacks and why. This is because migraine is a complex neurological disease, and our understanding of the brain is still in its infancy.
Much of what we know about migraine triggers is a result of discussion in the migraine community – doctors, and patients – finding what seems to make a difference. As a matter of fact, much the same is the case for migraine treatments. If it works for a lot of people, it’s worth studying.
If sucralose is causing headache and/or migraine attacks, it’s worth investigating, no matter what studies tell us it’s safe for rats or bunnies or even the larger human population. Unfortunately, money drives these studies, and at the moment the money is on the side of Splenda. A long term study of Splenda will take years. After it actually gets started. After it gets funded.
Which brings us back to the original article in Headache, which was simply telling doctors to watch out for Splenda as a possible migraine trigger.
Based on the comments I’ve seen here so far, we as the migraine community also need to consider the possibility.
The ingredients of Splenda
Sucralose is not sugar. Splenda used to market the fact that it was made from sugar. In fact, sucralose is made by combining sucrose (naturally found in sugar) with chlorine. What results is something totally new – which is why complaints were made against Splenda for using the Splenda-sugar comparison.
When human beings start eating something that isn’t a food in nature, we really don’t know what will happen. (The most famous example of this is the partially hydrogenated craze – leading to the eventual widespread condemnation of trans-fats). The human body is incredibly complex, and it’s impossible to quickly narrow down the cause and effect of these chemicals.
So when it comes to doctors, or researchers, or just me, the answer is the same – we just don’t know if Splenda is a true migraine trigger in a large number of people. It seems likely to me that it causes problems for some people. We also don’t know what else it may do to the human body over time.
One other interesting note. Splenda is not just sucralose. It also contains maltodextrin. Maltodextrin may contain MSG, another well-known migraine trigger for some. Maybe we’re focusing the discussion on the wrong ingredient!
The other ingredient is dextrose, otherwise known as glucose. I would be more surprised if this was the problem, though migraineurs may have unusual reactions to glucose.
Final thoughts on Splenda, headache and migraine
Personally, I prefer to stay away from "foods" that aren’t natural. You need to make your own decision. But at the very least, do be aware that there could be a connection, and test the theory for yourself. As we see from previous comments, it doesn’t seem to be a migraine trigger for everyone (which is consistent with what we know about other triggers).
And hold on to your hat – if customers lose faith in Splenda, there’s always another sweetener to take its place. Rebiana perhaps? Could we maybe try fruits and vegetables?
Let’s keep the discussion going – have you found a relation between Splenda and migraine? Splenda and headache? Sucralose and either of these? What’s your opinion?