Health Effects of High Fructose Corn Syrup: Learn What This Common Sweetener May Be Doing to Your Body

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The dangers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) come not from the calories—it has the same amount of calories per gram as table sugar—but from the percentage of fructose (80%) in the additive. The FDA and the industries that make and use this variety of corn syrup maintain it is harmless. Published research now increasingly is showing that the health effects of high fructose corn syrup are a significant factor in the increasing prevalence of metabolic syndrome, one of the highest risk factors for diseases of the cardiovascular system [1].

Increasing Use of HFCS

Food manufacturers love this additive because it is cheap to make. It is now added to carbonated and other soft drinks (except diet), jellies, snacks, breads, cakes, candies, salad dressings, and even dairy products. Since the development of this variety of corn syrup in the 70’s, our dietary balance of fructose versus other nutrients has gone from a historical average of 15 grams, which came from fruits and vegetables, to an estimated average of more than 81 grams per day. Unlike glucose, which is metabolized and used easily for energy or stored in the liver, high fructose corn syrup is quickly metabolized by the liver and raises triglyceride levels, or it can cause a non-alcoholic form of fatty liver disease. In addition, fructose doesn’t cause satiety as quickly as glucose does, encouraging overeating and is thought to contribute to the current epidemic of obesity. Studies have shown that large consumption of this additive contributes to insulin resistance, kidney stones, gout and increased glycation, which is associated with diabetes [2].

More Effects of HFCS on the Body

An over-abundance of this form of corn syrup in the diet appears to contribute to hypertension, one element in the metabolic syndrome as well. Apparently it inhibits an enzyme that produces nitric oxide. This latter substance is an essential element in the walls of blood vessels which lets them relax to keep blood flowing easily. When nitric oxide production is reduced, the blood vessels can become stiff. This affects not only hypertension but can cause erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease. Beyond this, the food additive can raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and decrease the good (HDL) [1]. Another bad effect of the syrup is on levels of uric acid. When these are raised beyond a certain level, the body develops hyperuricemia, which in turn causes gout [3].

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Some Supplements to Reduce the Harmful Effects

While it is very difficult now to avoid high fructose corn syrup because it is so ubiquitous, there are some natural products that may reduce some of the dangers. These include alpha-lipoic acid, carnosine, pyridoxamine, acetyl-l carnitine, and a daily intake of 500 milligrams of Vitamin C. A study showed that at this level of Vitamin C intake, uric acid levels in the body were much lower [4]. Beyond this, consumers are well advised to read nutrition labels on all foods they buy and try to stay away from high fructose corn syrup enriched products.

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References

[1] Basciano, H., Federico, L., and Adeli, K., “Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia,” Nutrition and Metabolism (Lond). 2005 Feb 21; 2(1):5

[2] Gaby, A.R., “Adverse effects of dietary fructose,” Alternative Medicine Review. 2005. Dec; 1(2):80-6.

[3] Choi, J.W., et al. “Sugar-sweetened soft drinks, diet soft drinks, and serum uric acid levels,” Arthritis and Rheumatism 2008 Jan 15;59(1);109-16.

[4] Gao, X, et al. “Vitamin C intake and serum uric acid concentration in men,” The Journal of Rheumatology 2008 Sep; 35(9):1853-8.