How Sweet It’s Not: Crohn’s and Splenda

More than 1.5 million Americans suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, which include both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Each year, another 70,000 individuals hear this diagnosis. With Crohn’s disease, the key troubling symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and fatigue. The disease is thought to develop when the immune system mistakenly attacks the digestive system.

There are treatments to manage the disease, although a cure remains elusive. In the meantime, it can be helpful to consider one’s diet. Certain foods can trigger symptoms, although which foods are triggers can vary by individual. It can take some time and attention to determine which foods are best avoided. Although in general the following foods are commonly reported by those with Crohn’s disease to serve as triggers:

  • Alcohol
  • Oils/fats
  • Soda
  • Coffee
  • Dairy
  • High-fiber foods
  • Red meat

It can be useful to keep a food diary (including symptom tracking) to sleuth out which foods could be problematic for each individual.

Now there’s another “problem food” researchers are eyeing in terms of triggering Crohn’s flare-ups. An animal model study conducted at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine reports that the artificial sweetener sucralose – known as Splenda – intensifies gut inflammation in animals with a disease like Crohn’s, but doesn’t cause any problems in animals without the disease. This study backs up the anecdotal reports from people with Crohn’s: about one in ten note that artificial sweeteners make them feel worse.

For now, it seems prudent for anyone with Crohn’s disease to avoid Splenda, unless they have used the artificial sweetener without negative effects. And if symptoms do develop, then Splenda should be considered as a potential trigger food.


Rodriguez-Palacios A, Harding A, Menghini P, et al. The artificial sweetener Splenda promotes gut proteobacteria, dysbiosis, and myeloperoxidase reactivity in Crohn’s disease-like ileitis. Inflam Bowel Dis 2018 DOI: 10.1093/ibd/izy060