How Sweet Can Become Toxic

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Sugar isn’t exactly a health food, but researchers say it could be toxic — at least to mice — and that’s not good news for people.

Mice who were fed a diet containing 25% sugar — the equivalent of a healthy human diet along with three cans of soda daily — were twice as likely to die by the end of the 58 week long study conducted at the University of Utah as mice fed a similar diet without the added sugar. The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggest that even safe levels of sugar could have serious negative effects on people’s health.

While the mice did not show any symptoms of metabolic diseases, including obesity or high blood pressure, the male mice were 26% less territorial and produced 25% fewer offspring than the other mice. Those trends, say the scientists, hint that the sugar was having some biological effects that weren’t necessarily detectable in measures like weight gain.

(MORE: Sugary Drinks Linked to Heart Risk in Men)

“The [mice] are having fewer offspring because they are having a hard time competing, they’re less effective at foraging and raising young. That is due to lots of perturbations across their physiology. Since most substances that are toxic in mice are also toxic in people, it’s likely that those underlying physical problems that cause those mice to have increased mortality are at play in people,” says study author James Ruff of the University of Utah. “That doesn’t mean that the read-out we are going to get in people is reduced mortality. But that underlying damage is likely to be there.”

That’s the message that nutrition experts have been trying to convey to the sugar-loving American public — that sugar can not only contribute to overweight and obesity, but also drive physiological changes that can compromise health and even shorten lives. Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco notes in his popular presentation, Sugar: The Bitter Truth that both table sugar and high fructose corn syrup cause the body harm, and they should be considered as dangerous as cigarettes and alcohol. And there is data to support his position. A February study published in the journal PLoS One, for example, linked higher sugar consumption with an increased risk of diabetes, and a 2012 study in the journal Circulation found that sugary beverages raised the risk of heart problems in men.

(MORE: Salt Sugar Fat: Q&A With Author Michael Moss)

Some scientists note, however, that different types of sugar may have different effects on the body. High fructose corn syrup, for instance, can lead to fatty build-up in the liver that sets off a chain of metabolic effects that can increase the risk of heart disease and insulin resistance. But some research suggests that people don’t eat as much high fructose syrup in its purest form, which can cause the most health harms, as nutritionists thought.

Ruff and his team agree that researchers need to look more carefully at doses that are closer to what people actually consume. “We hope that other labs and scientists turn their attention to these low does so we can figure out exactly what is going on with these right. Right now, scientists are characterizing responses at doses that are much higher,” he says.

Even so, nutrition data shows that Americans are eating significantly greater amounts of sugar than we have in the past. Some estimates suggest the average U. S. adult now downs 50% more than adults in the 1970s. Still, since sugar in all its forms is so prevalent in the American food environment, cutting it out completely may be difficult, not to mention impractical. But, as Lustig suggests, eating more low-sugar foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains could help to keep our collective sweet tooth in check.

8 comments
lvbagonlinestore
lvbagonlinestore

Try to eat or not to eat sugar content of foods that can prevent many diseases.

atavales
atavales

Honestly, I think it is all about moderation, something humans have forgotten a long time ago.

MaureenBeach
MaureenBeach

This study focuses on mice and does not accurately reflect human health. Furthermore, it’s irresponsible for researchers to say the concentrations of glucose and fructose consumed every single day by the mice, and representing 25% of their daily caloric intake, is equivalent to soda in the American diet. These mice were not fed sugar-sweetened beverages. And although the authors allege an increase in mortality among the mice, the average human life expectancy in the United States has continued to rise over the past several decades – regardless of levels of sugar, or sugar-sweetened beverage, consumption.- Maureen at American Beverage Association 

goldengrain
goldengrain

I was always taught that the plural of fruit was fruit, not fruits.

bachcole
bachcole

And this is some kind of big discovery?  I hope my tax dollars weren't used to fund this study.  A thousand scientific studies, a million clinical reports, biochemistry all over the place, a 100 million anecdotal reports have already proven that added sugar is a killer.  This also proves that consumers are stupid.  If consumers demanded healthy, natural sweeteners, it would happen.

stanmrak
stanmrak

@MaureenBeach Geez... I hope you can sleep at night, promoting distortions that hurt millions of people for a living. At least you revealed your conflict of interest by identifying your employer.

bachcole
bachcole

@MaureenBeach Thank you Maureen for letting us know of your perspective, or as they say in some circles, bias.  A breath of fresh air.

Although I think that added sugar is bad for people, I also think that generalizing from mice to humans is absurd.  My dogs will get sick from chocolate and die from xylitol, both foods that I eat, and I eat the xylitol for health reasons.

But this does not change the fact that the medical research literature is loaded (excuse the pun) with studies that show an obvious cause and effect relationship between added sugar and ill health.  And the experience of millions of people, including my own anecdotal arse, have found that sugar is bad for people.  Nothing could be more obvious and to say otherwise is lying to one's self and to everyone else, usually because of greed.  Maureen, don't be on the side of the devils on this issue.  Quit your job now while you can still look yourself in the mirror.

I also don't think that the government should be involved in this except in an advisory role perhaps.  People need to discipline themselves and take responsibility for their own health.  People's choices will move the market.  There is no spiritual growth in a country that will execute you for adultery and cut off your hand for stealing.

bachcole
bachcole

@goldengrain   Either way.  But, generally speaking, fruits refers to multiple species.  If you had a bowl full of apples, you would not say that they were fruits; you would say that they were fruit.  If wanted people to eat a variety of fruits, you would say just like I just said.