Most health-conscious consumers are aware of the often-repeated warning of the purported dangers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). As an example, on April 21, 2016, two researchers from the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center released this frightening headline from the UCLA Newsroom: “Fructose alters hundreds of brain genes, which can lead to a wide range of diseases.” This of course led to such headlines as this one from Forbes: “Diets heavy in fructose damage genes related to memory and metabolism.” At least in this headline, Forbes did recognize that the dose given was “heavy.”
The UCLA researchers established a protocol, which they felt would shed some light on the effects of a HFCS consumption in humans, using rodents as their test model. The rodents in question drank daily the equivalent of a human consuming a liter of soda per day. Based upon this dietary protocol and the analysis of the brains of rodent’s post-mortem, the researchers, as expected, predict doom and gloom for HFCS users. But here is the problem with most “studies” that vilify HFCS.
- The metabolism of fructose in rodents is quite different than that in humans. Rodents are not little people.
Isotope tracer studies in humans illustrate the following. Little dietary fructose appears in circulation due to the chemical conversions that take place in the liver after absorption. This fact alone should put an end to this debate. The liver converts roughly 50 percent of consumed fructose to glucose, which is the main energy substrate for the brain as well as other tissues, which is why you can get so cranky when your daily diet does not include enough carbohydrates to keep your brain happy. Another 30 percent of fructose is converted to lactate, a chemical cousin of glucose, which the liver, as well as other cells, can also use as an energy source. Overall, less than 1 percent of the ingested fructose in humans is converted to fat – the balance metabolically ends up as glycogen (stored sugar), glycerol and CO2.
By contrast, as pointed out by Scientific American, rodents convert 50 percent of ingested fructose to fat. This is a major issue when attempting to correlate the metabolic end product of fructose, fat, to any specific disease. The fact that rodents turn more than 50 percent of fructose into fat has perpetuated many myths regarding the dangers of fructose to humans. As with any chemical, it is the excess that is the issue, not the compound.
- A good diet without HFCS also contains significant fructose, as it is one of the principle sugars in most fruits. Depending upon the types of fruit chosen, a normal diet can easily match or surpass the fructose intake of a can of soda. As an example, my diet daily includes considerable raisins, several bananas, apple, etc., which, due to the volume needed to match my energy needs, surpass the fructose intake I would obtain from one can of soda.
- Anyone consuming the equivalent of a liter of soda per day is also likely on aN LSD diet, which is not the psychedelic drug popular in the ’60s, but a Lousy Stinking Diet. To my freshman students, this is also referred to as an atherogenic diet, or the “I do not want to live too long diet,” which is one that promotes heart disease as well as others. In other words, a diet low in fruits and vegetables as well as grains, which essentially eliminates roughly 3,000-4,000 plant chemicals present in a plant-based diet, most likely play a major role in one’s health. This population is also likely to be incorporating many other bad lifestyle choices into their daily lives as well, such as smoking, sedentary lifestyle, excess alcohol consumption, excess caloric intake, the resulting obesity, etc.So, of course there is going to be a correlation between those with a very high intake of HFCS and many diseases. But it is just that, a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship. It is just one of the many poor lifestyle choices (variables) so common in this population group. This is common sense. The “associated” diseases are a correlation to the entire lifestyle of the individual, not tied to a specific food item or ingredient. It is not the presence of HFCS, which has been cherry-picked from many variables to support some prevailing bias or agenda, but the absence of the appropriate foods and lifestyle habits.
- HFCS is roughly 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose, which is very like table sugar, which contains 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. So, there is very little distinguishable difference between HFCS and table sugar (sucrose).
So, prior to embracing future headlines regarding the purported dangers of specific ingredients in foods, consider the following from Richard Horton, M.D., editor-in-chief of The Lancet. “Science publication is hopelessly compromised” is the title of his editorial, which appeared in the same journal April 11, 2015. After attending a symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research, Dr. Horton wrote:
“A lot of what is published is incorrect. I am not allowed to say who made this remark because we were asked to observe Chatham House rules. We were also asked not to take photographs of slides. Why the paranoid concern for secrecy and non-attribution? Because this symposium – on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research – touched on one of the most sensitive issues in science today: the idea that something has gone fundamentally wrong with one of our greatest human creations. The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted with studies of small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analysis, and flagrant conflict of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn toward darkness. As one participant put it, ‘poor methods get results.'”