Scientists Find Sugar Toxic

sugar is toxicResearchers from the University of California at San Francisco have concluded that sugar is not simply empty calories: Sugar, they find, is the cause of chronic disease and early death.

The paper, written by Dr. Robert Lustig, Dr. Laura Schmidt and Dr. Claire Brindis, was published in the scientific journal Nature last week. They submit that, “A growing body of scientific evidence shows that fructose can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic diseases. A little is not a problem, but a lot kills — slowly.”

All three authors are professors at the University of California. Dr. Lustig is a medical doctor and professor of Clinical Pediatrics. He is one of the foremost experts on the central nervous system and childhood obesity.

White sugar is composed of primarily sucrose, while corn syrup is more than a third fructose, about a third glucose and the rest maltose – depending upon how highly refined the corn syrup is. The more refined corn syrups, such as high fructose corn syrup or HFCS, can have up to 38% fructose.

Refined sugars such as HFCS and table sugar have been stripped away of the nutrients and fiber from the original food source – cane, beets or corn. They thus subject the blood stream to immediate hikes in blood sugar levels. This overloading puts pressure on the liver and pancreas, and is linked to insulin insensitivity – eventually leading to diabetes and inflammatory conditions.

The paper illustrated research that shows that refined sugars and corn syrups are one of the primary causes for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic-oriented diseases. Furthermore, they are addictive. This, they point out, is cause to regulate sugar products, just as tobacco and alcohol are regulated. They state:

“If international authorities are truly concerned about public health, they must consider limiting fructose — and its main delivery vehicles, the added sugars HCFS (high fructose corn syrup) and sucrose — which pose dangers to individuals and to society as a whole.”

Today, refined sugar consumption has skyrocketed in the United States, going up with rates of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and diabetes over the decades. Over the past three decades, Americans’ sugar intake has tripled. The average American now consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day – or more than 75 pounds of sugar a year. This is well over the 6 and 9 teaspoons suggested for women and men respectively by the American Heart Association.

Most packaged foods now contain either sugar and/or HFCS as ingredients. Sodas and sports drinks supply the bulk of Americans’ sugar intake, at 36%. Desserts are second at 19%. Fruit drinks and packaged foods follow.
The authors also underscored the addictive quality of sugar. “Sugar promotes the same phenomena in the brain that addictive substances do,” Dr. Lustig told NBC in a recent interview.

The most controversial point of the paper published in Nature was the proposal that sugary foods and beverages be taxed to limit their consumption. The paper states:

“If international authorities are truly concerned about public health, they must consider limiting fructose — and its main delivery vehicles, the added sugars HCFS (high fructose corn syrup) and sucrose — which pose dangers to individuals and to society as a whole.”

Though controversial, this is not a new concept. Dr. Kelly Brownell and Thomas Frieden, M.D., Ph.D. have argued for taxing sugar. They co-authored such a proposal in a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009. Dr. Frieden is the Director for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Brownell is the Director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Furthermore, sodas are currently taxed in 33 states in the U.S., and other states have put forth bills to tax sugary sodas. Maryland’s tax on sodas is 6%. New York State abandoned its bill, but many are still pushing for the tax. New York State’s health commissioner, Richard Daines compared such a tax on sugar drinks equivalent to trying to save kids from further addiction and obesity.

Research supports this. A study published in March of 2010 in the Archives of Internal Medicine followed 5,115 young adults for 21 years. They found that taxing soda 10% reduced caloric consumption by 7%. The study calculated that an 18% tax would reduce caloric intake by 56 calories for each person, equating to five pounds of weight loss per year.

These researchers stated:

“In conclusion, our findings suggest that national, state or local policies to alter the price of less healthful foods and beverages may be one possible mechanism for steering U.S. adults toward a more healthful diet. While such policies will not solve the obesity epidemic in its entirety and may face considerable opposition from food manufacturers and sellers, they could prove an important strategy to address overconsumption, help reduce energy intake and potentially aid in weight loss and reduced rates of diabetes among U.S. adults.”

Learn more about a healthy diet.


Lustig RH, Schmidt LA, Brindis CD. Public health: The toxic truth about sugar. Nature. 2012 Feb 1;482(7383):27-9.

Duffey KJ, Gordon-Larsen P, Shikany JM, Guilkey D, Jacobs DR Jr, Popkin BM. Food price and diet and health outcomes: 20 years of the CARDIA Study. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Mar 8;170(5):420-6. Erratum in: Arch Intern Med. 2010 Jun 28;170(12):1089.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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