Why High-Fructose Corn Syrup is killing you

Story at-a-glance
  • Fifty percent of all Americans over the age of two consume sugary drinks on a daily basis
  • The metabolic effects of a calorie from fructose are completely different from a calorie from other nutrients, including other sugars, and these metabolic differences explain its devastating health effects
  • Fructose turns into fat much faster and more efficiently than other sugars

By Dr. Mercola

Fructose consumption rates continue to rise worldwide, despite the fact that a growing collection of studies clearly demonstrate that consuming excessive amounts of fructose (primarily in the form of high-fructose corn syrup) is the fastest way to destroy your health.

Half of the U.S. population over the age of two now consumes sugary drinks on a daily basis, and that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Unnecessary calories from fructose-laden drinks and processed foods of all kinds can quickly add several pounds a year to your weight and rob you of your health. Over the last several years, fructose has been revealed as a major culprit or exacerbating factor in:

Elevated blood pressure, and nocturnal hypertension Insulin resistance / Type 2 Diabetes Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Elevated uric acid levels, which can result in gout and/or metabolic syndrome Accelerated progression of chronic kidney disease Intracranial atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries in your skull)
Exacerbated cardiac abnormalities if you're deficient in copper Genotoxic effect on the colon Metastasis in breast cancer patients and pancreatic cancer growth
Tubulointerstitial injury (injury to the tubules and interstitial tissue of your kidney) Obesity and related health problems and diseases Arthritis

A Calorie is Not a Calorie...

Dr. Lustig, a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at UC San Francisco, has been on the forefront of the movement to educate people about the health hazards of sugar, and I highly recommend viewing his presentation, The Trouble with Fructose, above. He's a compelling speaker and does an excellent job of laying down the facts in an easy to understand manner.

One of the primary problems with fructose is that it is isocaloric but not isometabolic, meaning that while you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or any other nutrient, including glucose, the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. This explains why calorie counting doesn't work. You simply have to take the quality or source of the calories into account in order to successfully lose weight.

Fructose metabolism is quite different from glucose (dextrose) metabolism in that it places the entire burden on your liver, and this accounts for many of its devastating health effects. Furthermore, people consume fructose in enormous quantities these days, which has made the negative effects that much more profound. Without getting into the very complex biochemistry of carbohydrate metabolism, it is important to have a general understanding of how your body handles these sugars.

Below is a summary of the main differences between glucose and fructose metabolism, which explains why I keep repeating that fructose is by far the worst type of sugar there is:

  • After eating fructose, 100 percent of the metabolic burden rests on your liver. But with glucose, your liver has to break down only 20 percent.
  • Every cell in your body, including your brain, utilizes glucose. Therefore, much of it is "burned up" immediately after you consume it. By contrast, fructose is turned into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat.
  • The fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat droplets in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Insulin resistance progresses to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.
  • Fructose is the most lipophilic carbohydrate. In other words, fructose converts to activated glycerol (g-3-p), which is directly used to turn FFAs into triglycerides. The more g-3-p you have, the more fat you store. Glucose does not do this.
  • When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat. Consuming fructose is essentially consuming fat!
  • The metabolism of fructose by your liver creates a long list of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and causes gout.
  • Glucose suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates leptin, which suppresses your appetite. Fructose has no effect on ghrelin and interferes with your brain's communication with leptin, resulting in overeating.

Interestingly enough, glucose has been found to further accelerate fructose absorption, so when you MIX glucose and fructose together, you absorb more fructose than if you consumed fructose alone! This is yet another important piece of information for those who want to make a better effort at controlling their weight.

Anyone who still tries to tell you that "sugar is sugar" in an effort to defend high fructose corn syrup is seriously unaware of the current research, which clearly demonstrates that there are major differences in how your body processes these sugars. The bottom line is: fructose leads to increased belly fat, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, along with a long list of associated chronic diseases.

Should Fructose be Government Controlled?

The second video above is another presentation by Dr. Lustig called "How to Have a Sweet Ending," given at the UCSF Center for Obesity, Assessment, Study and Treatment. In it, he lays out his ideas for how to curb the consumption of sugar. ccording to Dr. Lustig, efforts at educating the public have failed, and he believes the government must intervene, and essentially force the people to change their ways. In response, De Coster, writing on LewRockwell states:

"He believes that a massive policy of taxation, regulation, and interdiction, at both a societal and an individual level, is necessary to force the reduction of sugar consumption. He has, in fact, called for a global policy to eradicate sugar addiction. Lustig is not calling for a few misplaced laws, here and there, to protect you from yourself. Rather, he is trying to justify a global crusade against freedom of food choice on the basis that "our toxic environment cannot be changed without government/societal intervention."

Among Lustig's suggested interventions are controls on advertising and marketing, government counter-campaigns (taxpayer-funded, government propaganda), and raising prices via actual price fixing and/or taxation. Moreover, he advocates a policy that mimics the iron law of alcohol policy – reducing the availability of sugar-based products by way of age limits for purchase ("carding kids for Coke"), licensing and zoning controls on sales outlets, and regulating the hours of operation and density of fast food outlets through a series of government-issued permits."

Is government intervention the solution to this problem? What do you think? I'd love to hear what you think on this issue, so please do share your thoughts and ideas in the Vital Votes forum below.

Personally, I have to agree with De Coster that Dr. Lustig's ideas sound a lot like the invocation of the new Food Safety Modernization Act, which stands poised to do far more harm than good. I think there's a real danger in trying to regulate or tax ANY kind of food out of existence. After all, it's not the sugar in and of itself that is toxic—it's the MASSIVE doses that people consume, and honestly... personal responsibility and educated choice needs to enter the picture sooner or later. Your diet, after all, is front and center when it comes to taking control of your health, which is something everyone needs to do if they truly want to live a long and healthy life.

I believe the current situation can change, but enough people need to understand the simple truths of healthy eating and refuse to buy sugar-laden processed foods and pass on the daily sodas. Earlier this year, Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard-affiliated pediatrician wrote a commentary in JAMA, offering his suggestions on how to turn this disease-producing diet trend around. These are reasonable ideas, but I don't think we can sit around and wait for government to fix this mess. Instead, do what you can to help educate others

His suggestions include:

  • Restructuring agricultural subsidies
  • Regulating the marketing of food to children
  • Adequately funding school lunch programs
  • Using existing and future technologies to allow the food industry to retain profits while producing more healthful products

How to Reverse the Obesity- and Related Chronic Disease Trends

I believe there are two primary dietary recommendations that could make all the difference in the world for most people, leading to a swift reversal in the horrific disease trends we're currently facing:

  1. Severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and
  2. Increasing healthy fat consumption

I recently wrote about this recommendation in-depth, so for more details, please see This Substance Fools Your Metabolism - and Tricks Your Body into Gaining Pounds. If you want to shed excess pounds and maintain a healthy weight long-term, and RADICALLY reduce (and in many cases virtually eliminate) your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, then get serious about restricting your consumption of fructose to no more than 25 grams per day, with a maximum of 15 grams a day from fresh fruit. If you're already overweight, or have any of these diseases or are at high risk of any of them, then you're probably better off cutting that down to 10-15 grams per day; fruit included.

That's the first step. My nutrition plan lays out the rest in a simple to follow, step-by-step manner. If you haven't taken the time to review it yet, I highly recommend doing so. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. And the information is free.

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