Above: Presentation “Sugar: A Bitter Truth” by Dr. Robert Lustig.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a post incriminating aspartame as a substance that could possibly cause cancer or other unforeseen health problems in the future. Although it is my personal belief that sometime down the road, problems associated with long term aspartame consumption would surface, my concern over aspartame’s effect on human health is not unfounded. Despite the fact that results from preliminary aspartame research in rodents are still inconclusive , I still firmly believe that aspartame usage could cause damage to health slowly but surely. However, even if aspartame consumption does not demonstrate any health problems in the future, avoiding this substance will at least give me the peace of mind. And perhaps this is why I will also soon begin to regulate my sugar intake. No, I am not referring to reducing sugar intake to the recommended daily level, but actually reducing the consumption of a specific type of carbohydrate: fructose. (Although reducing total sugar intake is also a good idea, it is not the focus of this post).
“Natural sweeteners” include the common refined sugar and the more ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup. If a processed food is not sweetened by an artificial sweetener like aspartame, it is usually sweetened by one of these “natural sweeteners.” However, how “natural” are these sweeteners? And more importantly, does the “naturalness” of these sweeteners guarantee their safety to health? This last question is answered by Gary Taubes on the Health News section of the New York Times via an article titled “Is Sugar Toxic?”.
In “Is Sugar Toxic?”, Taubes, writer and independent investigator in health policy, summarizes a presentation (see video above) given by Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatrician at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. In his presentation, Lustig introduces his hypothesis that sugar, more specifically the fructose that makes up approximately 50 % of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, is actually a toxic substance when consume at high qualities and/or chronically. Furthermore, increased and prolonged consumption of fructose could lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
(And this is not about the number of calories in the sugar:
“It’s not about the calories,” he says. “It has nothing to do with the calories. It’s [fructose] a poison by itself.” – Dr. Robert Lustig
It needs to be emphasized that Fructose within the sugar is the real culprit.)
Lustig’s hypothesis, at first glance, might seem ludicrous and unbelievable because yes, we all know that overconsumption of sugar contributes to fat accumulation and obesity, but to claim that sugar is toxic might be blowing the sugar consumption problem out of proportion. However, Lustig’s hypothesis is formulated based on decades’ work of many independent scientists whose research were not financially supported by beverage companies, processed food companies, or any other commercial venture that sought to use science to prove the safety of their in fact dangerous products.
While Lustig provides many convincing evidence on the dangers of fructose consumption, one piece of scientific evidence especially helped to convince me of the validity of Lustig’s hypothesis. This simple fact is that fructose is only metabolized by the liver and thus increased consumption of fructose places increased metabolic burden on the liver, which turns fructose into fat when the metabolic machinery of the liver can no longer handle the large influx of fructose. From understanding this piece of information, I am able to understand the deductions that Lustig make on the effect of fructose consumption on health. For example, Lustig shows via data collected from rigorously conducted experiments that consumption of high fructose corn syrup leads to development of fatty liver that impair the metabolic system, namely the insulin and blood sugar control system, of the consumers, thus leading to metabolic syndrome,(a disease of insulin resistance, the precursor to type 2 diabetes), obesity, and finally type 2 diabetes.
In his presentation “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” (see above video), which was summarized by Taubes in his detailed article “Is Sugar Toxic?”, Lustig make many claims. Some of his claims include: 1) fructose consumption, not fat, is the main cause of metabolic diseases, obesity, and diabetes, 2) some cancers are caused by over production of insulin on an insulin resistant body and 3) fructose consumption can even produce fatty livers and metabolic diseases in lean people because “calorie in” no longer equals “calorie burned” in the world of biochemical processes of metabolism. Lustig make many other claims in his presentation, all of which are well supported by scientific evidence. I’m confident that you will be convinced by his eloquent presentation. Just now, he has convinced me of the evils of fructose.
[Fructose] is “the most demonized additive known to man.” –Dr. Robert Lustig
Perhaps I’m not this extreme, but removing as much fructose from my diet as possible might just give me the peace of mind that eliminating aspartame has.