High fructose corn syrup - all natural, and possibly dangerous

Natural High

The idea that the FDA might set the bar on what types of food can and cannot be considered “natural,” is pretty laughable. Seriously? A roomful of bureaucrats under continuous pressure from special interests – they’re going to tell us what’s natural?

Stop it! You’re killing me!

Earlier this year the FDA stated that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) should not be considered natural. Then they reversed that ruling – sort of – stating that certain methods of refining HFCS could be considered natural while others could not.

This was cause for celebration over at the Corn Refiners Association. They’ve now got their “natural” claim and you can be sure they’ll use it. But you know how it is with nature – a tornado is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Lifelong habits

Researchers have known for several years now that HFCS may help set the stage for metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms that put a patient at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In the e-Alert “Back to the Garden” (11/19/02), I told you about a University of California, Davis (UCD) animal study that showed how HFCS consumption might contribute to insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and elevated triglyceride levels – three of the core symptoms of metabolic syndrome. (Other symptoms include excessive abdominal fat, high C-reactive protein level, and low HDL cholesterol.)

Five years later, a study of human subjects confirmed those conclusions. In the e-Alert “One Good Reason” (7/18/07), I told you about this follow-up study from UCD.

Twenty-three overweight adults were asked to drink either three glucose beverages each day or three fructose beverages each day. After 10 weeks, researchers found that triglyceride levels were on the rise in the fructose group, but actually dropped in the glucose group. Over the entire range of the study, insulin sensitivity decreased and LDL cholesterol increased in the fructose group but didn’t change in the glucose group. Fructose subjects also gained about three pounds overall, but no weight gain was reported in the glucose group.

UCD researcher, Peter J. Havel, Ph.D. (who participated in both the 2002 and 2007 studies), told WebMD Medical News that most people get added sugars in their diet from daily beverages – which tends to be a lifelong habit, far exceeding the two weeks in which fructose quickly had an adverse effect on triglycerides.

Sweet straw man

NutraIngredients-USA points out that some studies have linked increased body weight and fat storage to HFCS consumption. But representatives for the Corn Refiners Association argue that research doesn’t support the notion that HFCS is “uniquely responsible” for obesity. Of course, that’s a straw-man argument. No one is saying that high fructose ALONE causes obesity.

But weight issues are just part of the problem. HFCS intake may also be responsible for many cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects 40 million in the U.S.

A gastroenterology study – detailed in the e-Alert “Reversal of Fortune” (10/29/03) – demonstrated how a one-year, fructose-free diet significantly reduced IBS symptoms. At the end of the trial, some of the fructose-abstaining subjects reported a complete absence of abdominal pain.

Fructose is found primarily in alcoholic beverages, corn, and corn-based products. But fructose derivatives – such as corn oil, corn syrup, and fructose syrup – are used in a WIDE variety of foods. So don’t be misled by fructose names that would seem to imply that the fructose content is somehow modified to be less of a problem. The phrase “crystalline fructose,” for instance, might suggest something pure and clean and even natural. But it’s still fructose.

“Corn Refiners Welcome FDA Clarification that High Fructose Corn Syrup Can Be Labeled Natural” Corn Refiners Association, 7/8/08, corn.org
“Consumption of Fructose-, but not Glucose-Sweetened Beverages Produces an Atherogenic Lipid Profile in Overweight/Obese Men and Women” American Diabetes Association 67th Annual Scientific Sessions, Abstract 0062-OR, June 22-26, 2007, scientificsessions.diabetes.org
“Fructose: Sugar’s Dark Side?” Daniel J. DeNoon, WebMD Medical News, medicinenet.com