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High fructose corn syrup toxic, Utah study says

By Jamie Lampros, Standard-Examiner Correspondent - | Jan 13, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY – High fructose corn syrup is found in hundreds of food items, from cold cereal to ice cream, cookies, soda and even some salad dressings.

The processed sweetener and food preservative made from cornstarch delays the expiration date while still maintaining taste, but at what price?

When researchers at the University of Utah fed mice sugar in doses equal to what many people eat, the fructose-glucose mixture found in high-fructose corn syrup was more toxic than sucrose or table sugar, reducing both the reproduction and lifespan of female rodents.

The study showed female mice on the fructose-glucose diet had death rates 1.87 times higher than females on the sucrose diet. They also produced 26.4 percent fewer offspring.

“This is the most robust study showing there is a difference between high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar at human-relevant doses,” said U of U biology professor Wayne Potts, a senior author of the new study scheduled for publication in the March 2015 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. The new findings build on a former sugar toxicity study done in 2013 by the researchers. That study found female mice died at twice the normal rate and the males were a quarter less likely to hold territory and reproduce. Additionally, researchers found no differences in survival, reproduction or territoriality of male mice on the high-fructose and sucrose diets. That may be because both sugars are equally toxic to male mice.

The debate over the relative dangers of fructose and sucrose is important, Potts said, because when the diabetes-obesity-metabolic syndrome epidemics started in the mid-1970s, they corresponded with both a general increase in consumption of added sugar and the switchover from sucrose being the main added sugar in the American diet to high-fructose corn syrup making up half our sugar intake.

“Our previous work and plenty of other studies have shown that added sugar in general is bad for your health. So first, reduce added sugar across the board. Then worry about the type of sugar, and decrease consumption of products with high-fructose corn syrup,” said James Ruff, the study’s first author and a postdoctoral fellow in biology.

High fructose corn syrup and table sugar can be found in baked goods and have about the same amount of fructose and glucose. However, in corn syrup, they are separated molecules, called monosaccharides. Sucrose or table sugar is a disaccharide compound formed when fructose and glucose bond chemically, the researchers stated.

Approximately 13 to 25 percent of Americans consume a diet that includes 25 percent or more of calories in the form of added sugars, which was the percentage of added sugars consumed by mice in the new study. Added sugars are sugars added during food processing or preparation and not already naturally in food, like in a piece of fruit.

Ruff said in the American diet, 44 percent of the added sugar is sucrose, 42 percent is high-fructose corn syrup and the remaining 14 percent includes honey, molasses, juice concentrates and agave, all of which also combine fructose and glucose, which also is known as dextrose. He said worldwide, high-fructose corn syrup represents only about eight percent of added sugar consumption.

Ruff also said previous studies in rodents and humans tied pure fructose consumption to metabolic problems such as insulin resistance, obesity and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Those studies concluded high-fructose corn syrup was worse than sucrose.

The researchers said reducing added sugar across the board is important, as well as decreasing the amount of products you purchase with high fructose corn syrup.


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