High Fructose Corn Syrup and Type 2 Diabetes
People suffering from Type 2 diabetes have chronically high blood glucose due to insulin resistance. The exact cause of Type 2 diabetes is not known, but research commonly attributes it to obesity and a lack of activity. Recent research estimates that 6.4% of the world population is diabetic. By 2030, the estimate is projected to reach 7.7%, with developing countries experiencing the most significant increases. Complications from Type 2 diabetes include blindness, dementia, gum disease, cardiovascular disease, and a greater risk of lower limb amputations. Furthermore, sufferers typically have a 10-year shorter life span than the general population. A new study conducted by University of Southern California (USC) and University of Oxford research teams indicates that consuming large amounts of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may be one of the major contributing factors associated with this rising global epidemic of Type 2 diabetes. The investigation reports that countries that use HFCS in their food supply had a 20% higher prevalence of diabetes than countries that did not use HFCS. Surprisingly, this association between HFCS consumption and the increased prevalence of diabetes was found to be independent of total sugar intake and obesity levels. "HFCS appears to pose a serious public health problem on a global scale," said chief study author Michael I. Goran, professor of preventive medicine, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center and co-director of the Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. "The study adds to a growing body of scientific literature that indicates HFCS consumption may result in negative health consequences distinct from and more deleterious than natural sugar."
Of the 42 countries examined in the study, the United States had the highest per capita consumption of HFCS: a rate of 25kg (55lbs) per person each year. The second highest was seen in Hungary, with an annual consumption rate of 16kg (46lbs) per capita. Canada, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Argentina, Korea, Japan, and Mexico were also relatively high consumers, while Germany, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Egypt, Finland and Serbia were among the lowest consumers. The countries that consumed < 0.5kg of HFCS per year included Australia, China, Denmark, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. The occurrence of Diabetes among the population was 2.0% higher in countries that have higher consumption rates of HFCS compared to individuals living in countries not using HFCS. "This research suggests that HFCS can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is one of the most common causes of death in the world today," said study co-author Professor Stanley Ulijaszek, director of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford.
The physiology behind this association is believed to be directly related to the higher amounts of fructose in foods and beverages made with HFCS. Common table sugar (sucrose) contains fructose and glucose in equal quantities, but HFCS has a much greater proportion of fructose. The higher fructose content in HFCS makes it significantly sweeter by weight; it also provides processed foods with greater stability and a more consistent browning color when baked, enhancing the product’s appearance. Unfortunately, growing evidence demonstrates that the body metabolizes fructose in a different manner than glucose, a process which does not favor healthy body composition measures. Fructose metabolism occurs independently of insulin, taking place primarily in the liver, where it may be more readily converted to fat. This is also believed to be a likely contributor to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. "Most populations have an almost insatiable appetite for sweet foods, but regrettably our metabolism has not evolved sufficiently to be able to process the fructose from high fructose corn syrup in the quantities that some people are consuming it," explains Ulijaszek.
In a previous related study, the authors found that the fructose content in specific popular soft drinks produced in the US was about 20% higher than expected. This suggests that manufacturers are using HFCS containing more fructose than previously estimated. Such differences could "potentially be driving up fructose consumption in countries that use HFCS," the researchers state. The challenge lies in determining the genuine quantity of fructose in HFCS products due to "a lack of industry disclosure on food labels." As noted earlier, the US is the single largest consumer of high fructose corn syrup. In fact, by the late 1990s, HFCS made up 40% of all caloric sweeteners and was the primary sweetener in all soft drinks. "If HFCS is a risk factor for diabetes—one of the world's most serious chronic diseases—then we need to rewrite national dietary guidelines and review agriculture trade policies," says Tim Lobstein, director of policy for the International Association for the Study of Obesity. "HFCS will join trans fats and salt as ingredients to avoid, and foods should carry warning labels."