Dangers of high fructose corn syrup

Although a diet high in either glucose or fructose will eventually lead to these chronic health conditions, research suggests that a diet high in fructose will cause problems more quickly.

by Dr. Denise Grobe — 

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is currently a topic of much debate. Health and wellness advocates claim that HFCS is evil. The Corn Refiners Association, however, advertises that it is the same as sugar and not harmful in moderation. Both claims are right.

The problem is that HFCS does not exist in our food supply in moderation — it is in everything. One would expect to find it in soft drinks, cookies, cakes, candy and other sweets; however, it is also in bread, pasta sauce, prepared soups, condiments, salad dressings, and frozen, pre-prepared and fast foods.

Our country has seen a rise in chronic health problems associated with diet and lifestyle that corresponds with the increase in HFCS used in our food supply. The sugar substitute became prevalent in the food industry due to the fact that HFCS is easier to blend and transport because it is in liquid form, has a long shelf life, and is less expensive than sugar in the United States because of corn subsidies and sugar tariffs/quotas. Indeed, the federal government has subsidized corn growers by $40 billion since the mid-1990s.

One side argues that “a sugar is a sugar,” whether that sugar is sucrose (natural sugar from beets or sugar cane) or fructose. The other side argues that because HFCS is highly processed and can contain mercury, it is more harmful than natural sugar. Again, both sides are right.

Sucrose is a disaccharide molecule consisting of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule, connected by a molecular bond, which is broken in the stomach. HFCS is a combination of single molecules of glucose and fructose, usually containing 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose, up to 90 percent fructose and 10 percent glucose.

A high-sugar diet can lead to cardiovascular disease (atherosclerosis caused by elevated cholesterol and triglycerides and decreased HDL), metabolic syndrome/pre-diabetes (including insulin resistance), type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Although a diet high in either glucose or fructose will eventually lead to these chronic health conditions, research suggests that a diet high in fructose will cause problems more quickly.

Studies have shown that a diet high in fructose causes significant reduction in insulin sensitivity and insulin binding, compared to a diet high in glucose. Another study showed that fructose, unlike glucose, is readily converted to fat by the liver, which elevates triglycerides and lowers HDL, contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Obesity is an epidemic in our country; chronic health conditions associated with obesity include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes affects an alarming number of Americans; chronic health conditions associated with diabetes are hypertension, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and obesity.

Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when a person has central obesity, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, elevated fasting glucose and decreased HDL cholesterol. Although these diseases have different names, they all encompass the same conditions, suggesting that the same or similar factors cause them to occur.

So whether or not you believe that HFCS is the root of all evil or that it is just as safe as regular sugar, it cannot be denied that Americans need to reduce the amount of sugar consumed, read food labels and become better informed about the health effects of the foods they eat.

 

Dr. Denise Grobe is a naturopathic physician at the Center for True Harmony Wellness and Medicine in Mesa, Ariz. She specializes in women’s medicine and digestive health.  480-539-6646 or www.trueharmonywellness.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 4, Aug/Sept 2010.

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