The Cost of Sugar Addiction, Part 2

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Last time, Childhood Obesity News was looking at the sugar’s checkered past, in historical terms, and the current damage to taxpayers when a commodity so much in demand and so cheap to produce can still collect farm subsidies, or what some call “corporate welfare.”

In 2009, pediatric neuroendocrinologist Robert H. Lustig stirred things up by releasing a very controversial YouTube video that accused fructose of being an evil poison. He believes it interferes with how the central nervous system regulates the balance of energy. It also encourages the body to store fat in weird ways, especially in the liver, which instead of performing its proper functions goes to work turning fructose into fat.

Gary Taubes, a leading journalist in the areas of obesity and nutrition, explains:

This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers… Having metabolic syndrome is another way of saying that the cells in your body are actively ignoring the action of the hormone insulin — a condition known technically as being insulin-resistant.

Taubes says there has been enough laboratory confirmation to raise grave suspicions, but as yet no solid proof. We do know that obese and/or diabetic people are more likely to get cancer. People with metabolic syndrome (or Syndrome X) also have more of a likelihood of coming down with cancer. It’s just possible that the outrageous amounts of fructose we consume and the way we metabolize it are responsible for fatty livers, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, starting a chain reaction that leads ultimately to diabetes and heart disease and even cancer.

Other scientists, while not disputing the presence of metabolic syndrome in many patients, believe it is caused only by excessive calories, period. If people consume too many calories and don’t exercise enough, they get “diabesity.” (Diabetes and obesity appear so often together that they are melding.) Sure, sugar represents empty calories, and of course empty calories are not good. But fructose calories are no different from any other, and there is nothing special about fructose as a particular villain.

Lustig holds out for another dimension. Sugar — and especially fructose — are not just inert, empty calories, but actively destructive, changing things around in the body’s chemical reactions, and not for the better. As a specialist in pediatric hormone disorders, Lustig calls high-fructose corn syrup “the most demonized additive known to man,” and he’s fine with that. He is comfortable vilifying any kind of sugar, which he considers as toxic and deadly as alcohol and tobacco.

In Lustig’s view, all sugar is equally dangerous — the traditional kind from beets or sugar cane, and the kind from corn as well — because the biological effects are the same. Taubes emphasizes this and says:

Because each of these sugars ends up as glucose and fructose in our guts, our bodies react the same way to both, and the physiological effects are identical… In the early 1980s, high-fructose corn syrup replaced sugar in sodas and other products in part because refined sugar then had the reputation as a generally noxious nutrient… High-fructose corn syrup was portrayed by the food industry as a healthful alternative…

Now, of course, the situation is reversed. And however bad any type of sugar might be, the substitutes are even worse. Athlete/comedian Eddie Bravo says:

Isn’t it crazy that we’ve gotten so stupid as a society that your product can advertise that you have real sugar, and it’s a good thing?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Is Sugar Toxic?,” The New York Times, 04/13/11
Image by colros (Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose).

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