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Fructose = Poison February 9, 2011

Posted by The Barefoot MD in : Diet, Health, Thoughts , trackback

Not too long ago I was made aware of a seminar on the deleterious effects of fructose.  Before I tell you about it, I’ll give you a little primer on fructose.  Fructose is contained in what we know as table sugar or sucrose.  Sucrose has two sugar units on it.  The first one is glucose.  Our body uses glucose to create energy.  We store the extra glucose as glycogen in our liver and muscles.  When we need the energy, it is released as glucose.  The other unit in sucrose is fructose.  Fructose is only metabolized in the liver and it doesn’t have the same profile as glucose when it comes to what our body does with it.  Fructose is also contained in high fructose corn syrup (roughly 55% fructose and 45% glucose). In fact, as you’ll see in the following video, fructose has many of the same effects on your body as consuming too much alcohol.

The seminar is titled Sugar, the Bitter Truth, and is by Robert H. Lustig, MD.  Dr. Lustig is at the University of California San Francisco.  The video run time is around 1.5 hours, but is worth every second you spend viewing.

I started watching this seminar about a month ago. Dr. Lustig mentions a book during the course of his presentation called Pure, White and Deadly by John Yudkin. After hearing about 30 minutes of Dr. Lustig’s presentation, I had to find the book which he had referenced and spoken so highly. After jumping through what seemed like 1,000 hoops, I was able to get my hands on the book for a short period of time. I’m currently reading it.  At the very least, this book is highly enlightening . . . at the worst, shocking.

I got back to watching this seminar Sunday night and finally finished it.  When he talks about being able to show that fructose is a poison . . . he nails it with ease.  The biochemistry from medical school came flooding back as he reviewed the pathways by which our body metabolizes glucose, then ethanol (alcohol), and finally fructose.  In essence, the consumption of high quantities of fructose, found frequently in the “Standard American Diet” (SAD), not contained in fruit can lead to metabolic syndrome, which includes nice things like obesity, type II diabetes, and high blood pressure (hypertension).

One of the most poignant comparisons within the presentation was that of the body’s metabolism of ethanol with that of fructose.  After that comparison, he compared the effects of chronic alcohol abuse with chronic ingestion of fructose.  It was mind blowing!  Here are effects of chronic exposure to ethanol and fructose.  (I’ve bolded the similarities ethanol has with fructose.)

Ethanol:  Hematologic disorders, electrolyte abnormalities, hypertension, cardiac dilatation, cardiomyopathy, dyslipidemia, pancreatitis, malnutrition, obesity, hepatic dysfunction, fetal alcohol syndrome, addiction.

Fructose: Hypertension, myocardial infarction, dyslipdemia, pancreatitis, obesity, hepatic dysfunction, fetal insulin resistance, and habituation if not addiction.

He ends the seminar with some recommendations.

  1. Drink only water & milk
  2. Eat your carbs with fiber (fruit is ok)
  3. Wait at least 20 minutes for your second portion (you might actually be full)
  4. Buy your screen time (TV & computer) minute for minute with physical activity

In the end, it really comes down to what kind of quality of life you want to have.  However, when the agencies in our government charged with the protection of our country are aware of something that can do this type of damage and do nothing about it . . . someone has certainly dropped the ball.  Once we have the information, at least we can make our own decisions even though our food supply is fraught with fructose.  So, here I am trying to let as many people know how to be healthy . . . if they choose.  As I always say . . . your health is in your hands!

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1. Bruce Bean - June 9, 2011

Hey David, what about fruit juices? What is your recommendation?

2. The Barefoot MD - June 9, 2011

I actually recommend avoiding all fruit juices as it separates the fructose from the fiber that slows the absorption of the fructose in the gut. Any source of fructose that is readily absorbed in the digestive system puts an excessive load on the liver . . . and that’s where we get into trouble.

3. Bruce Bean - June 17, 2011

While reading “Pure, White and Deadly” I learned that corn syrup (not high fructose corn syrup) is composed of corn starch and glucose with zero fuctose. Is corn syrup a possible ‘good’ substitute for sucrose as an ingredient in some recipies?

4. The Barefoot MD - June 20, 2011

While it is true that corn syrup is a string if glucose without any fructose, consumption of glucose in this form still causes an insulin spike with many adverse health effects. For the best overall health, you want to keep the insulin and blood sugar relatively stable without a lot of variation.

5. Jennifer Tiszai - October 28, 2011

What about substituting sweeteners with honey? Is honey pure glucose?

6. The Barefoot MD - November 29, 2011

Sorry for the delay in responding. Honey does have some positive benefits that sugar or high fructose corn syrup don’t have. However, it is mainly composed of fructose (38.5%) and glucose (31.0%). As such, consuming too much of this sweetener will have the same effects as utilizing sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Edit: I just read a great article (Is Honey Good For You?) with a few studies discussing the benefits of honey. While it does show, in some cases to have beneficial effects, I would still use it sparingly.