Back to the garden

Check your kitchen pantry. Fructose is everywhere. Unless you’ve made special efforts to avoid it, your diet probably has many sources of fructose. And although it was once thought of as the healthy alternative to sugar, more and more the evidence suggests that fructose can be just as harmful as table sugar.

Just this last week, HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., sent me some new and important information with specific details about how fructose contributes to obesity, complicates diabetes, and even promotes the aging process.

Increases no one needs

In the past decade, the incidence of diabetes has increased by almost 50%, and during that same period the number of obese Americans jumped an additional 57%. In an e-Alert I sent you in September (“Sugar in the Morning, Sugar in the Evening” 9/4/02) I told you about these trends and how they continue to grow in the wrong direction with far-reaching health problems: hypertension, along with elevated blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, to name just a few.

A new review of nutritional data from the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis, shows that America’s consumption of fructose rose more than 25% between 1970 and 1997 – due primarily to its use in processed foods.

The UC team found that, in animal tests, fructose consumption contributes to insulin resistance, an impaired tolerance to glucose, high blood pressure, and elevated levels of triglycerides. And although the data in humans is not quite as conclusive as the animal trials, the researchers report that an increased intake of fructose may increase body weight and encourage insulin resistance – both of which, obviously, are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

The aging factor

To the University of California research, Dr. Spreen added some comments about the “browning reaction.” And I have to admit that I’d never heard of the browning reaction. Dr. Spreen explained it to me like this: “That’s where certain carb molecules bind with proteins and cause aging. It’s also called ‘glycation’, ‘glycosylation’, and sometimes the Maillard reaction. It changes the structure of enzymes and other proteins, resulting in tissue and organ damage (and it’s suspected in organ damage particularly in diabetics).”

Dr. Spreen also noted that in addition to processed foods, we get fructose directly from fruit. The difference there is that whole fresh fruit has enough natural fiber, vitamins and minerals to inhibit the browning effect.

Just plain irritable

At HSI we’ve followed the pros and cons of fructose for some time now. Last year I sent you an e-Alert (“Fructose Allergy Could be Causing your Irritable Bowel Symptoms” 10/29/01) in which I told you about a University of Iowa study that demonstrated how an allergy to fructose might be responsible for many cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other unexplained gastrointestinal (GI) complaints. This is consistent with what alternative practitioners have been saying for years – and it could be very good news for people who suffer with this “incurable” condition.

To recap; in the UI study, doctors recruited 219 patients with unexplained upper GI symptoms – bloating, cramping, distension, diarrhea, and gas. More than 80 percent of the participants met the diagnostic criteria for irritable bowel syndrome – and nearly 80 percent of the same participants tested positive for fructose allergy.

In this study, fructose allergy was assessed using a breath test. This type of test checks for the presence of gases in the breath that are produced when fructose is not absorbed properly. To understand this, it might be easier to think of the condition as “fructose intolerance,” or “fructose malabsorption” rather than an allergy.

If you suffer with irritable bowel syndrome, ask your doctor about taking a breath test. You may find that he isn’t familiar with them – it isn’t a widely used procedure. But more and more facilities are offering them and with a little research, you should be able to find a hospital or lab in your area. If not, you can try calling the American College for the Advancement of Medicine at 1-800-532-3688 to find a physician experienced in using alternative therapies.

If you find you do have a fructose allergy, you may finally find relief from the painful, inconvenient, and embarrassing symptoms of IBS by adopting a low-fructose diet. It may take some getting used to, but most IBS sufferers are more than willing to change their diet for the promise of a symptom-free life.

And even if you prove to be allergy free, there are numerous other reasons to limit your fructose intake, particularly from processed foods.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute