To Your Health
December, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 12)
The liver takes the biggest beating in the metabolization of fructose, even more so if the fructose coming into the system is in liquid form (juice or soda, for example), as it hits the liver all at once (versus an apple, which has fiber to slow the fructose down).
The chemical reactions in the liver result in a few things, one of which is higher uric acid (which increases inflammation, and also causes high blood pressure), and the other of which is a fatty liver. A fatty liver is one of the major causes of insulin resistance, as the liver is the first tissue to become resistant. Studies are being done at the University of California to see how quickly a high fructose diet can cause a fatty liver in adults. The researchers are estimating that, with three juice or soda drinks a day; it could be as quickly as in two weeks. The research hasn't been released yet, but it has already been shown in lab animals.
The implications start to become staggering, because, between the damage that simply glucose and insulin do from high carb diets, the addition of fructose damage is starting to be linked to the shocking increase of obesity and diabetes in the last three decades. In damaging the liver, this speeds up the process of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the conglomeration of severe health impacts from insulin resistance: high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and a higher incidence of cancer. About 75 million Americans have metabolic syndrome — that's 1 in 4 people. And the very first symptom? An expanding waistline. Why is that? The one big fact that people often don't know is: fructose turns into fat faster than any other sugar.
Fruit juice, next to soda, is one of the biggest offenders of high fructose intake (and that's the 100% juice drinks — the ones that are 10% juice, for example, are sweetened with sucrose or HFCS). Juice has been directly correlated to increasing BMI scores in children and low-income children ingest the most, as government programs cover the cost of processed, inexpensive food.
Many people argue that HFCS is much more damaging than regular sugar but that's only slightly true in the sense that it has more fructose than glucose. But since the average American is eating 140 pounds of sugar a year (and remember, sugar is a 50-50 mix of fructose and glucose), does it really matter? It's simply an overload. It's not the bit of sugar in the holiday cookies you ate, it's that there is also fructose in the bread they had that morning (try finding a supermarket bread that doesn't have HFCS in it's ingredients), in the crackers/snack food they had that afternoon, in the soda they drink, in the spaghetti sauce out of a jar they used for dinner.
Children have it even worse. It starts with drinking formula: over 40% of formula is corn syrup solids, and over 10% is sugar (and a high sugar intake as an infant is linked to increase sugar cravings as an adult). As they get older, they are presented more and more with processed foods — fruit roll-ups, juice, candy, popsicles, lemonade, crackers, cereals... it just goes on and on. Then they go to school and with sodas in most schools, they add to the fructose load. This would be why nearly 1 in 5 children is obese.
Diabetics used to be advised to use fructose as a sweetener because it didn't trigger insulin, but you can see that the evidence is now showing that it accelerates all the health problems of diabetes, and has now stopped being recommended. And for those of us who aren't as sick, it's basically impossible, without a lot of intention, to grow up (and be an adult) and not have a high fructose intake.
So what do you do? Read the labels — most processed foods have sugar or HFCS added. Remember that sucrose is half fructose. Make as much of your own food as you can. Avoid all fruit juice and soda — this is key. Avoid crystalline fructose, which is now being added to sodas and juices — this is an even more concentrated form of fructose.
And remember not to fall for the marketing. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are basically the same thing — and the fructose in both will, or already has, damaged you faster than you think.
Marlene Merritt, DOM, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist and runs a wellness center in Austin, Texas. She specializes in Oriental medicine and nutritional protocols.