Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 18, 2017
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Is sugar toxic?

An article in Nature suggests that the solution to diseases associated with obesity is to limit sugar consumption by imposing high taxes or age limits on sugary foods.1 But does the research support the assumption that sugar can kill you?

All sugars don’t act the same. Although many foods are sweetened with sucrose (or table sugar), many are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It was thought that the two had the same effect on the body until a 2011 study published in the journal Metabolism suggested otherwise2. Study participants were given 750 grams of either sugar-sweetened or HFCS-sweetened soft drinks. Those who consumed the HFCS-sweetened drinks had higher blood-fructose levels. They also had higher levels of uric acid and their systolic blood pressure was 3mm Hg higher.

Are our teens at risk? Teenagers are notorious for the amount of processed foods and soft drinks they consume. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, the effect of all dietary sweet sources — sucrose, fructose in fruits and vegetables and HFCS — was evaluated3. A total of 559 teenagers between 14 and 18 participated in the study; those who consumed the most fructose had higher levels of fasting glucose, insulin resistance, inflammatory factors and higher blood pressure. They also had more visceral fat and lower levels of cardio protective factors like HDL cholesterol and adiponectin.

These studies contradict the results of a review article4 that was also published in February of this year at the same time as the Nature study. Thirteen studies were reviewed. They included 352 participants who consumed an average of 78.5 grams of fructose daily from a variety of sources, including fruits and vegetables, for four weeks. Researchers found that diastolic blood pressure actually decreased and suggest that other factors — like an increased caloric intake — may be responsible for the changes in blood pressure and CVD risk.

Adding to the confusion is another study that was published a month earlier that suggests that drinking diet soda on a daily basis is linked to an increased risk of having a vascular event.5 The February study, on the other hand, found that people who consumed between one and six diet soft drinks per week, or those who consumed regular soft drinks, were not at a higher risk of a vascular event.

Take home message to patients: individuals who follow the Mediterranean or the DASH diet experience lower vascular events. These are diets that emphasise the consumption of fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains. So-called extras and sweet foods like desserts are limited. Encourage patients to use these guidelines to make their food choices.

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Comments

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  1. On April 1, 2012, Bev said:
    The book, 'The Fat Loss Guidebook' by Mike Rabe does a good job of explaining the detrimental effects of sugar in the diet. It motivated me to completely change my diet. I did this for my health, but as a side benefit, lost 15 pounds.

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