Image by Mona Loldwoman (Look for the good) via Flickr
You’ve seen the commercials haven’t you? Two fit young adults are sitting on a grassy hill having a picnic. The woman says to her partner, “Would you like a bite,” as she extends a popsicle. The man responds, “I thought you loved me, that has high fructose corn syrup in it.” She says, “So what.” He says, “Well you know what they say about it.” She interrupts and says “What!? That it’s made from corn? That it has the same calorie content as table sugar and that it’s fine to eat in moderation?”
All of this is to suggest that high fructose corn syrup really isn’t bad for you because it’s made from corn and that its calorie content isn’t any higher than regular sugar. While those facts are true it’s only a tiny fraction of the story.
The truth of the matter is that high fructose corn syrup is one of the worst additives you can possibly consume because of the metabolic effects it has once it has been consumed.
Until the 1970’s cane sugar was the sweetener of choice for the food industry. In the 70’s the corn derived sweeteners like maltodextrin and high fructose corn syrup were developed. It was sweeter and cheaper so of course the food industry moved to using it instead of cane sugar.
You can find HFCS in a wide variety of foods like soft drinks, salad dressings, processed cakes and candies, breakfast cereal and brand-name breads. This additive raises the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
HFCS intake increased by more than 1000% from 1970 to 1990 and now accounts for more than 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages.
Unlike regular table sugar that contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose, HFCS contains 80% fructose and 20% glucose. This is problematic because glucose and fructose are metabolized differently in the body. Glucose is a readily available source of energy and is metabolized more slowly into energy for the body to use. Fructose is processed differently. It is metabolized extremely quickly. In fact, it is metabolized so fast that the body cannot use all of it for energy. This becomes problematic because our bodies are not designed to get rid of extra energy. Our bodies view this as a reserve that could be used later. And how do we store energy? As fat! When you consume HFCS you increase your production of triglycerides and fat storage in the liver. The rise in triglycerides promotes atherogenic lipid deposition and raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. If severe enough it can even lead to liver dysfunction.
HFCS also raises the risk of diabetes. Before a person develops full-blown diabetes they go through a stage called insulin resistance. In this stage your body actually stops responding to the hormone insulin. This causes your body to not be able to effectively process sugar into energy. If this continues diabetes results. The list of complications from diabetes includes heart disease, neuropathy, blindness, kidney disease and circulatory issues.
High Blood Pressure
HFCS also contributes to high blood pressure. When you consume HFCS you inhibit an enzyme called endothelial nitric oxide synthase. This enzyme is located in the walls of your arteries and is responsible for producing nitric oxide. This is a potent dilator of the arteries. It basically allows the vessels to relax. If the vessels cannot relax they do not allow blood to flow unimpeded. When blood meets resistance in the vessels, high blood pressure is what occurs.
Consumption of HFCS has been linked to a condition called hyperuricemia. In this condition, uric acid levels in the blood rise. This leads to the painful condition called gout. In gout, uric acid crystals are deposited in the joints of the body causing a very painful arthritis.
The Bottom Line
HFCS is ubiquitous in our food supply. I always recommend that my patients avoid it at all costs. If you eat a natural diet and avoid processed foods as much as possible avoiding HFCS is actually very easy to do. HFCS raises the risk of many diseases and recent research even indicates it accelerates the growth of some cancers. While it is a cheap way to sweeten food, it costs the public their health. Do yourself a favor and keep it out of your diet.