Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Oct 2013

Are You Suffering from Fructose Poisoning?

Excess fructose consumption is a key factor in the development of metabolic syndrome. America’s increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has been mirrored by an alarming rise in obesity and cardio-vascular disease. Learn how this dangerous sweetener, so ubiquitous in the Western diet, can create health problems throughout your body.

By Roman Hartley

Are You Suffering from Fructose Poisoning? 

The processed food industry wants you to believe that fructose is a natural, healthy sugar derived from natural plant sources.1 The science shows something vastly different. In reality, fructose is a harmful toxin that is a key factor in the development of metabolic syndrome in America today.2

Excessive fructose consumption is responsible for a:

  • 39% increase in abdominal obesity in men.3
  • 9% increase in insulin resistance.3
  • 11% increased risk of hypertension in men.3

It also increases your risk of abnormal lipid profiles and inflammation.4,5 In fact, the highest consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages have a 20% increased risk of cardiovascular disease!6

The sweetener industry spends tens of millions of dollars each year in attempts to hoodwink the American public regarding the bitter truth about fructose.7 All their efforts are paying off: Between 1970 and 1990, Americans’ consumption of high fructose corn syrup rose by more than 1,000%, an increase that paralleled the rapid rise of the obesity epidemic.8

Fructose Poisoning

Are you a victim of fructose poisoning? If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, belly fat, or insulin resistance, the answer is likely yes.

Fructose might taste sweet to your taste buds, but there’s nothing sweet about what it does to your body. Mounting evidence shows that fructose is responsible for multiple factors involved in metabolic syndrome.2,3

The reason for these disastrous health problems is that high intake of fructose acts more like a toxin than a nutrient.9 Like a toxin, it is metabolized almost exclusively in the liver, where it is converted into dangerous byproducts (such as excess lipids and uric acid).10-16 And, like a toxin, fructose has direct harmful effects (glycation) on tissues throughout the body, while performing no necessary nutritional function.17,18

Recent research has shown that you can induce metabolic syndrome in rats by feeding them fructose in amounts relevant to human consumption.19 That’s incredibly important, since on average fructose now makes up 10 to 15% of the calories Americans consume.20,21 Some adolescents get nearly 30% of their calories from fructose!22

Study after study has demonstrated that excessive fructose consumption directly causes all five components of metabolic syndrome: abdominal fat, high blood pressure, abnormal lipid profiles, insulin resistance, and inflammation.2-5

Central Obesity

Central Obesity  

When scientists need to produce a quick model of central obesity, they’ve found a convenient solution: Feeding rats fructose for several weeks produces an animal with features of metabolic syndrome, including increased abdominal fat, high triglycerides, and elevated fasting blood glucose.23,24

Studies of primates and smaller laboratory animals now show that fructose intake can be directly linked to the development of central obesity.25 In addition, a recent study found that fructose-fed animals had increased levels of the enzyme that activates the stress hormone cortisol, which is a well-known cause of central obesity.26

Population-based studies show that women with the highest fructose intake have a 20% increased risk of abdominal obesity, while men have a 39% increased risk of abdominal obesity.3 A direct observational study of 559 adolescents demonstrated a strong and significant correlation between total fructose intake and abdominal obesity.22

From these data it’s clear that the more fructose you consume, the more abdominal fat you are likely to gain.

What You Need to Know
Deadly Effects of Fructose

Deadly Effects of Fructose

  • We are being systematically poisoned by fructose, a low-cost sweetener that is pervasive in our food supply.
  • Studies in both lab animals and in humans show that fructose produces all five components of metabolic syndrome.
  • Fructose can’t suppress your appetite the way glucose does, so you keep eating after you are full, contributing to abdominal obesity.
  • Fructose triggers changes in the liver leading to insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar.
  • Fructose diverts normal liver enzymes to produce abnormally large amounts of new fat molecules, contributing to unbalanced lipid profiles and fatty liver disease.
  • Fructose raises production of the metabolic toxin uric acid, which is a major contributor to hypertension.
  • Fructose acts through the “JNK” pathway to stimulate body-wide inflammation.
  • To avoid developing metabolic syndrome, limit your consumption of fructose to less than 25 grams per day.

Elevated Blood Sugar

Men and women who consume high levels of fructose have a 9% increased risk of insulin resistance, a key component of metabolic syndrome. 3 As is the case with central obesity, scientists have found that feeding rats a fructose solution can rapidly produce a reliable model of insulin resistance.27,28

The reasons why fructose elevates blood sugar are becoming increasingly better understood. Animal studies demonstrate that fructose consumption has direct harmful effects not only in the liver, but also in the brain. Fructose triggers signaling changes in the hypothalamus, the “appetite thermostat” that regulates food intake and directs other body tissues in how to handle sugar.10,29

One of those changes causes muscle cells to take up glucose less efficiently, contributing to elevated blood glucose levels even in the presence of sufficient insulin.30 Another causes the liver to ramp up its own production of new glucose, adding to the already high burden of blood sugar.31

Insulin resistance produced by fructose consumption not only produces high blood sugar, it also results in chronically elevated levels of insulin.32 An appropriate amount of insulin is necessary, but continuous exposure to raised insulin levels is now recognized as a major contributor to cardiovascular disease and cancer.33,34

Fructose: The Sweetest Toxin
Fructose: The Sweetest Toxin

Dr. Robert Lustig, a world-renowned expert on metabolism at the University of California at San Francisco, applied the term “toxin” to fructose.9 Based on the information below, it’s easy to see why.

Fructose doesn’t suppress hunger. When you eat a glucose-rich meal, your body releases a burst of insulin to drive the glucose into cells; the rise in insulin raises levels of leptin, a hormone that signals “I’m full” to the brain. At the same time, such a meal causes levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” to fall. The combined effect of rising leptin and falling ghrelin normally serves to tell your body to stop eating when you’ve had enough. The problem is that fructose doesn’t trigger a rise in insulin and leptin or suppress ghrelin.56 In fact, it does just the opposite: It causes ghrelin levels to rise.10 As a result, your brain perceives that you are still hungry, so you keep eating well after you have consumed the calories you actually need.10

Fructose increases fat formation by the liver. The liver is the only organ in the body capable of managing fructose.10,11 But whereas the liver stores excess glucose in the form of harmless (and useful) glycogen, it converts fructose into fats (lipids) very rapidly.12-14 That newly made fat is then formed into dangerous small LDL particles, which travel through the body to be taken up by fat cells and damage blood vessels.12 A substantial portion of that new fat remains in the liver, contributing to the fatty liver that’s part of metabolic syndrome.

Fructose increases glycation. Fructose is 7 to 8 times more potent at producing dangerous advanced glycation end products (AGEs) than glucose.17,18 AGEs are major triggers of inflammation, and are implicated in the development of diabetes, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Fructose promotes uric acid production. Uric acid is a natural byproduct of metabolism that the liver normally converts into urea for excretion in the kidney. But fructose disrupts that process, boosting uric acid levels into the abnormal range.14-16 Uric acid is a powerful tissue toxin and has recently been shown to promote high blood pressure.15

Abnormal Lipid Profiles

As we’ve seen, the effects of fructose in the liver produce marked increases in the production of fats, especially dangerous triglycerides. Elevated triglycerides and lowered HDL cholesterol levels together make up another component of metabolic syndrome.

A high fructose intake produces very high after-meal triglyceride levels in both animal and human studies.35-38 In humans, this has been shown to be directly related to fructose-induced impairments in the way triglycerides are cleared from the blood.35,38 Animal studies confirm this effect and also demonstrate that fructose induces many genes that increase new fat production and raise triglyceride levels.4,39

One human study demonstrated that just seven days of elevated fructose consumption increased fat deposition in liver and muscle, while increasing VLDL-triglycerides.40 Similar studies comparing the effects of excessive calories from either glucose or fructose showed that fructose (but not glucose) produced high 23-hour triglyceride exposure and new fat formation in the liver.12,41 Another study showed that ingesting fructose caused a 2.5 mg/dL drop in beneficial HDL.15

All that excess fructose-induced fat production leads to increased fat deposition in the liver.42 Excessive liver collections of fat, beginning as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), are considered the liver manifestation of metabolic syndrome; up to 30% of adults now suffer from this condition.42,43 Fructose is now widely recognized as a major contributor to NAFLD.42 NAFLD progresses to produce non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a precursor to liver cirrhosis and eventual liver failure.42

Is Fructose Really Different from “Natural Sugar?”
Is Fructose Really Different from “Natural Sugar?”

“But isn’t fructose a natural sugar?”

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re right—it is. And that’s exactly what the food industry wants you to think as well.

The corn sweetener industry wants to debate any connection between fructose and the epidemic of obesity and metabolic syndrome. They’ll tell you that fructose is a natural product, and that the animal studies showing fructose to be dangerous used “hyper doses” of fructose, at 40, 50, or even 60% of total calorie intake, a ridiculous amount.57 Yet research clearly links fructose to increased risk for conditions associated with metabolic syndrome, abnormal blood lipids, heart disease, and other serious health concerns. 3,15,36

Let’s clear up this confusion once and for all.

What exactly is fructose? Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found primarily in fruits and vegetables.58 Glucose is a naturally occurring sugar found in carbohydrates.58 Sucrose (table sugar) is made up of 50% fructose and 50% glucose.58

Please don’t avoid fruit and vegetables because they contain fructose. The slower absorption from whole fruit/vegetables should enable your liver to safely clear it. A limited study showed that people consuming very high fruit diets did not suffer adverse effects on body weight, blood pressure, and insulin and lipid levels after 12-24 weeks.59

Since the 1960s, the food industry has been loading up a growing proportion of the American food supply with a substance that’s vastly cheaper than sucrose: high fructose corn syrup.60,61 High fructose corn syrup can have up to 5% more fructose than table sugar (which we already consume in too high of quantities), it’s up to around 1.3 times sweeter than table sugar (increasing our need for sugar-sweetened foods), and it’s nearly impossible to avoid.58,62

High Blood Pressure

When lab rats are given drinking water with 10% fructose, they develop hypertension, yet another manifestation of metabolic syndrome.44 High fructose consumption in humans has a similar effect, raising the risk of hypertension by 9% in women and 11% in men.3

Just two weeks of excessive fructose consumption in healthy adult men raised their systolic (top number) blood pressure by an average of 7 points, and their diastolic (bottom number) by 5 points.15 And just one serving of soft drinks raised blood pressure by 1.6 and 0.8 points systolic and diastolic, respectively.45

Laboratory studies now show that there are a number of ways in which fructose consumption raises blood pressure. Fructose triggers very high rates of uric acid production in the liver, which in turn causes blood pressure to rise.16,46,47 High uric acid is a common finding in people with metabolic syndrome.48 Treating fructose-induced hypertension with the gout drug allopurinol returns both uric acid levels and blood pressure to normal.15

Fructose also triggers excessive sodium retention, which is a major contributor to hypertension.45,49 Conversely, a low-fructose diet lowers blood pressure in chronic kidney disease patients.50

Central obesity, insulin resistance, lipid disturbances, and high blood pressure are the four “classic” components of metabolic syndrome.51 Increasingly, however, raised markers of chronic inflammation are recognized as playing an essential role in the condition as well.51,52 Let’s look briefly at how fructose promotes inflammation.

Rise in Obesity Rate Tracks Rise in Fructose Consumption

The prevalence of obese and overweight individuals has increased dramatically in the decades since 1980.63 Between 1988 and 2000, the number of obese Americans (those having a BMI of 30 or more) grew from almost 23 to 30.5%.64 In the same time period, the proportion of overweight Americans (those having a BMI of more than 25 to 29.9) rose from 55.9 to 64.5%, while extreme obesity (defined as a BMI of 40 or more) rose from 2.9 to 4.7%.64 By 2010, the picture was even worse: For the first time in history, the average American was overweight (with a BMI of 28.7), and nearly 36% were obese.65

This alarming increase in body size parallels an increase in something else: fructose consumption.

Between 1970 and 1990, Americans’ consumption of high fructose corn syrup rose by more than 1,000% (that’s not a typo), vastly exceeding any other dietary changes in that period.8 By 2008, Americans were getting a full 10% of their calories from fructose. 20 During that entire period, Americans were gaining weight at unprecedented rates, and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome was steadily rising. By 1990, the year the obesity epidemic really took off, the skyrocketing rate of total fructose consumption matches the rapid rise in the percent of obese Americans.

Rise in Obesity Rate Tracks Rise in Fructose Consumption

Inflammation: The Role of “JNK” Food

The human liver contains a natural stress-response system that goes into high gear as a result of various kinds of stress, especially stress from toxins. Officially called “c-Jun terminal kinase,” this system is known to scientists simply as “JNK.” Fructose (and foods that contain high amounts of fructose) activate the JNK pathway, which contributes to insulin resistance and ultimately to inflammation.11,53,54

Even low- to moderate-sugar sweetened beverage consumption promotes inflammatory changes in otherwise healthy young men.5

Such changes have been shown to produce a 20% increase in cardiovascular disease risk for the highest consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages.6 Even children aged 3 to 11 years show increases in their cardiac risk factors in direct proportion to their consumption of such beverages.55

As noted earlier, fructose-induced inflammation has been shown to contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which has been referred to as “diabetes of the liver.”21

Nutrients That Protect Against Fructose-Induced Metabolic Syndrome

Supplement

Effects on Fructose-Induced Metabolic Syndrome in Laboratory Animals

Amla (Indian gooseberry)

Prevents insulin resistance and abnormal lipid profile37

Anthocyanins (from dark fruits)

Protects fat cells from insulin resistance36

Astaxanthin

Prevents insulin resistance56

Coffee extracts

Attenuates glucose intolerance, hypertension, and cardiovascular remodeling66

Ginger

Lowers triglycerides, ameliorates fatty liver,27improves insulin resistance32

Green Tea

Ameliorates insulin resistance67

Quercetin

Reduces abdominal obesity and inflammation68

Resveratrol

Corrects imbalanced lipid profiles, normalizes blood pressure69

Spirulina

Corrects blood sugar, lipid profile, liver function70

Urtica dioica (stinging nettle)

Ameliorates insulin resistance, decreases serum glucose71

Carnosine, Benfotiamine, and Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (vitamin B6)

Protects against glycation72,73

Summary

Despite the best public relations efforts of the corn sweetener industry, there’s no longer any doubt that Americans are slowly being poisoned by fructose, which has become ubiquitous in our food supply.

Study after study has shown that when we consume fructose in large quantities, our bodies treat it as a toxin. Fructose goes directly to the liver, where it disrupts a host of normal metabolic processes, producing each and every component of metabolic syndrome: central obesity, insulin resistance, abnormal lipid profiles, elevated blood pressure, and inflammation.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to avoid fructose and high fructose corn syrup. Since the 1970s, high fructose corn syrup has been added to just about every prepackaged product you can think of.

If you haven’t already eliminated fructose from your diet, now is the time to do so. Read product labels. Don’t be fooled by industry propaganda. Recognize that both high fructose corn syrup and table sugar provide vastly more fructose than your body can safely handle. And consider protecting yourself from this mass poisoning by taking nutrients that reduce the risk of fructose-induced metabolic syndrome.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

References

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