The Toxicity of Sugar: You’ll want to read this one.
Last April, there was a very popular article published in the New York Times about how sugar is toxic to the body. Although it is not entirely scientifically sound, it is still a well written piece, stemming from the original, and hugely popular, video from Dr. Robert Lustig posted on YouTube back in 2009.
Dr. Lustig publicly proclaims that sugar is indeed toxic to the body as that of tobacco products or alcohol. This acclimation began with a publication in the American Dietetic Association journal back in 2010 when Dr. Lustig wrote an entire detailed review on fructose having similar properties to ethanol. In summary, Dr. Lustig states that fructose has deleterious effects on the liver similar to that of ethanol in that it:
- Drives de novo lipogenesis, resulting in dyslipidemia, steatosis, and insulin resistance.
- Increases the amount of reactive oxygen species which in turn increases the risk for liver cell damage.
- Activates reward centers in the brain by blocking leptin and promoting sensations of hunger, which contributes to a positive feedback pathway for continuous ingestion of food, even when you’re not hungry.
Although these consequences of consuming excess sugar are possible, Dr. Lustig also provides two “antidotes” to combat the harmful liver effects from fructose:
- Exercise: which increases hepatic TCA cycle maximal velocity leading to a process of biochemical events that will eventually provide less substrate for the creation of triglycerides. In addition, improving the activity of mitochondrial proteins involved in promoting insulin sensitivity.
- Fiber: by reducing glycemic load and rate of carbohydrate absorption, fiber reduces the content of energy from the food the liver has to metabolize which in turn again, reduces triglycerides and improves insulin sensitivity. Also, fiber is well known to increase satiety which would reduce consumption of more sugar.
Dr. Lustig also adds that although fructose is considered a carbohydrate, it is metabolized more like fat substances.
More recently (as of last week), Dr. Lustig is back at it again, publishing a comment article in Nature where he states some dramatic proposals in regards to fighting the war on increased sugar consumption. Again he drives home the point that sugar is analogous to consuming alcohol claiming that it is unavoidable in society, toxic, has the potential for abuse and creates a negative impact (metabolic syndrome) on society. There is even a link between sugar consumption and increases in the likelihood of cancer. He then proposes that there should be a tax on any processed foods that contain any form of added sugars including soda, juice, sports drinks, and chocolate milk. Does this seem extreme to you? Would this really reduce consumption? Statistical models show that for this to have an impact, companies would have to double the prices of all of these drinks to reduce intake. Furthermore, Dr. Lustig states that there should be a limit on the availability of these products, such as limiting the hours retail stores are open to sell these products, regulating the location and amount of retail markets, and setting a limit as to who can legally purchase these items. Yes, that’s right, Dr. Lustig feels you should be at least 17 years old to purchase drinks with added sugar.
Okay, I understand the detrimental effects of sugar on the body and you’ve seen for the past month numerous studies showing them, but accomplishing all of these does not seem feasible in the U.S. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not the sole culprit for the increase in obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the United States. This notion was stated by John White in an article back in 2008 on the content of HFCS where he goes on to break some common misconceptions about this sweetener and sucrose. As stated in the first week of sugar month, HFCS has a similar content to that of sucrose; 50% glucose and 50% fructose. The only real difference is, and the reason of the stigmatic popularity to brand this sweetener as the reason for the obesity epidemic, is that it is cheaper for companies to use in their products. White states that HFCS is not predictive of the rise in US obesity due to these conclusions:
- HFCS has the same sugar composition of other “benign” fructose-glucose sweeteners such as sucrose, honey, and fruit juice concentrates.
- Increased caloric intake since 1970 was not due to added sugars (including HFCS) but rather due to increased consumption of all caloric nutrients, especially fats, flour, and cereals
- Fructose-glucose sweeteners are all metabolized through similar pathways regardless if you ingest them from fruit, sodas, or fruit drinks.
Therefore, in White’s view, switching back to sucrose instead of HFCS in products would have, “no change in basic metabolism and no changes in the rates of obesity” (since sucrose and HFCS are essentially the same two monosaccharides). ”The one change that consumers would notice is higher prices as sucrose is substituted for the less-expensive HFCS.”
Tomorrow is the conclusion of sugar month but for now I would like to know what some of you think about this post. Do you think sugar is truly as toxic as Dr. Lustig states and should we take such drastic actions in limiting the consumption and availability of these sugar additives?