Obesity, Diabetes and High Fructose Corn Syrup
Thesis Statement: High fructose corn syrup,(HFC) needs to be eliminated as a common food additive, it is one main culprit contributing to obesity and the resultant rise in type 2 diabetes in the United States. High fructose corn syrup (HFC) is now shown to have a direct correlation to the increase in obesity, and resultant rise in type 2 diabetes the US is currently experiencing (Bradley, 2012). A study of 43 countries around the world, conducted by Michael Goran and associates, demonstrated that as consumption of HFC increased, so did that country’s body mass index (BMI). BMI is a common measurement to determine obesity levels. The rates of type 2 diabetes also increased with the rise in BMI (Goran et al, 2012). HFC was first developed in 1957, but not used as a food additive until the 1970’s, when two events happened to make it more affordable; the United States government placed tariffs on imported cane sugar, then subsidies were given to corn farmers and processors. These two events caused the price of HFC to be cheaper than sugar. (Lefebure, & et al 2012). Sugar costs two to three times more in the United States . Because HFC is significantly cheaper it is now used as the main sweetener in almost all beverages, and processed foods (High, 2013).
Use of HFC has risen dramatically since 1970, and continues to rise even today. Not only is it cheaper, it also makes food taste better, as it is sweeter to the palate. HFC doesn’t crystallize as sugar does, so it is more stable in processed food products. It mixes in better, prevents drying and blends better with other ingredients. It helps to maintain a more stable texture and color in packaged foods. Cookies and other baked goods stay chewier, with a softer, moister texture,. HFC resists crystallizing after baking so it gives a superior color, a nice browning when baked. It is used in breads, cookies, cereals, pizza, canned vegetables and many other processed foods (Lefebure, & et al 2012). Surprisingly it doesn’t have the same satiation affect as sugar, so people tend to eat more HFC than sugar. It gives consumers more of the ’empty calorie’, where you aren’t filled up and there is no nutritional value. As a result Americans are eating 200-500 more calories each day than 30 years ago. Most consumers are unaware of all the foods HFC is in (Lefebure, & et al 2012). When HFC first came onto the market, no one really knew the affect it would have on the body. There was little research then, but research takes time, and now more than 40 years later, science is beginning to link the rise in HFC consumption, to the rise in obesity. Obesity is becoming an epidemic, its rise almost perfectly parallels the increase in production and use of HFC that began in 1970 (Lefebure, & et al 2012).
There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Insulin is used in the body to transport sugar into the cell where it is used for cell processes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body for an unknown reason stops producing insulin. Type 1 usually occurs in people under that age of 20. Type 2 diabetes is caused by either the body not producing enough insulin or the cells do not respond to insulin to allow sugar into the cell. 90% of all cases of diagnosed diabetes are type 2. Poor diet, inactivity and obesity, especially excess visceral fat, contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes (What is diabetes? n.d). When sugar is unable to get into the cells where it is needed it is left in our blood stream where it causes damage. The glucose eventually attaches to protein molecules preventing those proteins from doing their jobs. This is known as glycosylation (Oz, 2007). Glycosylation in blood vessels cause them to lose their elasticity, this results in elevated blood pressure. High blood pressure causes damage to blood vessels, to the brain, the heart, kidneys and liver as well as other organs.. This high blood pressure from diabetes is a leading cause of heart attacks, and strokes (Oz, 2007). When glycosylation happens to collagen tissues you lose elasticity there as well. Collagen is important for joints to function smoothly. When blood sugar is high it magnifies all aches and pains, leading to impaired joint movement, which can eventually lead to arthritis (Oz, 2007). When sugar attaches to proteins in the lens of the eye, the vision goes from clear to cloudy, eventually leading to a cataract.
When glycosylation occurs in the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eye, the blood vessels can leak, this is a condition known as diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness (Oz, 2007). Diabetes cause many health complications, it is the leading cause of Kidney failure and the main cause of nontraumatic lower limb amputations. In 2006, 65,700 amputations were done on adults with diabetes (Diabetes, n.d.). According to the American Diabetes Association, the cost of this disease is in the hundreds of billions, $179 billion was spent on direct medical costs, $69 billion in reduced productivity for a total cost of $245 billion in the United States in 2012. When these numbers are adjusted for population, age and average medical expenditures, we are spending 2-3 times more on people with diabetes than we would be if they did not have this disease (Diabetes, n.d.). Today a little over eight percent of the population are living with diabetes. Almost two million cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year, it is estimated that seven million have it and are undiagnosed. 79 million have developed prediabetes, also known as insulin resistance. Most all people who develop type 2 diabetes will initially present with prediabetes.
Their blood glucose levels will be higher than normal but not high enough to meet criteria for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Without intervention these will almost all become diabetic. More men than women have diabetes (Diabetes, n.d.). The rates of obesity and resultant development of type 2 diabetes follow a socioeconomic gradient. The highest rates are among the poor, lower rates among the wealthy. Obesity is increasing at all levels but is highest within lower-income groups (Drewnowski & Darmon, 2005). This is due in large part because of the relative lower cost per calorie of processed foods(Lee, 2012). In 2003 Finland completed their three year study to prevent diabetes. The study headed by Jaana Lindstrom evaluated 522 middle aged overweight individuals that were at risk for developing type 2 diabetes (Lindstrom & et al, 2003). The participants were divided into two groups; the control group received typical counseling to prevent diabetes. The intervention group received additional counseling from a nutritionist, as well as training sessions at a local gym, teaching them about resistance training and aerobic exercise. The intervention group received intensive education during the first year concerning diet and exercise, with the following two years being their maintenance period (Lindstrom & et al, 2003). They were able to show that diabetes is preventable with minor lifestyle changes. The intervention group had a drop of 58% in their risk of developing diabetes. The intervention group showed long-term beneficial changes in their diet and physical activity. Their weight reduction was between 3.5 and 4.5 kg. Most impresive was that teir clinical and biochemical markers had improved greatly, to decrease their risks for developing diabetes (Lindstrom & et al, 2003). Lindstrom and associates felt that lifestyle intervention, had excellent results, and is a very feasible option in preventing type 2 diabetes.
They asked for this to be implemented into the primary health care system (Lindstrom & et al, 2003). Princeton University researchers showed how detrimental HFC can be for weight gain especially when compared to table sugar. Researchers gave one group of rats water sweetened with HFC and one group, water sweetened with table sugar. Those rats on HFC became obese-all of them! Psychology professor, Bart Hoebel remarked, “When rats are drinking high-fructose corns syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese–every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.” (Parker, 2010). The rats with water sweetened with table sugar? They remained at normal weight (Parker, 2010). The Princeton University team then did a second study to confirm results, only this time it was used to sweeten rat chow. That way they could more closely monitor calorie consumption. This study also closely measured weight, body fat, and triglyceride levels. Elevated triglycerides are an indicator of developing insulin resistance, or metabolic syndrome (Parker, 2010). The rats on HFC gained 48% more weight. They also showed signs of metabolic syndrome, such as an increase in triglycerides, abnormal weight gain and visceral fat deposits (this is fat deposited around the abdomen). Miriam Bocarsly, Princeton graduate student exclaimed, “These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides.
In humans, these same characteristics are known as risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.” (Parker, 2010). The team concluded that their findings, support the theory, that excessive consumption of HFC found in sodas, other beverages and many processed foods may be an important factor in the obesity epidemic (Parker, 2010). Obesity and type 2 diabetes are becoming an alarming public health concern, a global epidemic. A critical change in our Western diet has been our increased consumption of HFC . A main concern is the increased consumption of HFC sweetened beverages. These drinks do not provide a feeling of satiation, of feeling full. Their consumption is directly linked to the risk for obesity (Goran & et al, 2012). Michael Goran at University of Southern California In Los Angeles worked with a team of researchers, they wanted to evaluate from an ecological, and global perspective, to determine if there was a relationship between the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and availability of HFC (Goran & et al, 2012). Goran’s team used data from various sources around the world. World governments and health organizations data, that was published, and unpublished. One of their main resources was the Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors, (GBMRF) a collaborative group that connects a worldwide network of public and clinical health researchers a and practitioners.
They collect data on BMI, blood pressure, serum cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose, and diabetes. GBMRF uses statistical methods for estimating regional, national and global trends. They also estimate mortality and the burden of these risk factors (Goran & et al, 2012). The Goran team used independent testing to compare countries using HFC, to countries not using it. What they found was that all ” all indicators of diabetes were higher in countries that use HFC as compared to those that do not, and this trend was significant’ (Goran & et al, 2012). They found that countries that allow HFC in their food, have an increase in diabetes prevalence that is 20% higher than in countries where it is not allowed. This compiled with data from the United States demonstrated the increasing consumption of HFC in our diet, was a primary nutritional factor connecting directly with the growing prevalence of type 2 diabetes (Goran & et al, 2012). He found that countries such as Europe and Japan that do not allow HFC as a food additive have some of the lowest rates of obesity and diabetes. Currently there is rate of 6.4% of diabetes in the world, he estimated that by 2030 this will rise to 7.7%. The tragedy is these increases are expected to affect developing countries more. Worldwide the increase in developing diabetes is estimated to be at 20%, whereas in developing countries there is a projected 69% increase (Goran & et al, 2012). The diabetes epidemic is having a bigger impact on low income families, and developing countries that allow HFC in their processed foods. Yuri Sautin from the University of Florida has researched and studied the pathway that metabolizes fructose. HFC is digested differently from the way other sugars are. It is first broken down with the enzyme, ketohexokinase (KHK) then it is absorbed quickly by the liver from the intestines. Sautin found that when levels of fructose were elevated they activated genes that stimulated fat production and accumulation in the liver; this can lead to fatty liver disease, obesity, insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes (Eftekhari, 2013).
When Sautin fed healthy mice a diet high in HFC, over a 12 week period, they developed excessive visceral fat, and then insulin resistance. When the enzyme KHK was removed by genetic engineering, fructose metabolism was redirected and metabolized in a different pathway. When these genetically engineered mice ate the same diet, high in HFC, they did not gain weight and did not develop insulin resistance, but remained lean and healthy (Eftekhari, 2013). Through these efforts he has discovered a way that may block the harmful effects of HFC in humans. Dr Sautin said, “This study demonstrates that blocking KHK and redirecting fructose metabolism to alternative pathways is an effective way to prevent visceral obesity and insulin resistance induced by high fructose corn syrup… our studies will likely be useful for developing new therapeutic approaches for the prevention and treatment of obesity and metabolic syndrome” (Eftekhari, 2013). Dr Joseph Mercola, a well know author and physician and health enthusiast, looks at it differently. He feels this direction is absolutely the wrong direction. He wonders, why we should be adding more drugs and genetic modification into our lives, when the simple answer is to avoid HFC. He promotes a return to natural, healthy eating of fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting or eliminating processed foods (Mercola, 2009). Dr Mercola recommends a simple diet change, if people need to lose weight, and reduce their risk of developing metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, they simply need to just stop drinking soda. Soda is well known as an empty calorie. Soda has no nutritional value, and consuming 200-500 calories of soda does not fill you up like 200-500 calories of fresh fruits and vegetables will.
Pure clear water satisfies thirst, hydrates the body and cleanses it. Just switching from soda to water could make a big difference in your health (Mercola, 2009). Anthony Bradley, author, professor and intellectual has examined what the US government is doing to the food industry. He looked at US funds of 16.9 billion from 1995-2010 going to organizations such as farmers, and processors that make and distribute corn. Most of the corn goes into processed foods that are not healthy for us. Foods such as fast foods, which have a high proportion of corn as well as almost all processed foods have some corn in them, mostly as HFC. He broke it down further to the taxpayer and found that taxpayers in the San Francisco area are spending $2.8 million of their tax dollars on junk food each year, through government subsidies (Bradley, 2012). Too much focus is on the benefits to corn farmers and food suppliers, and not enough focus on what is best for the public health. As our nation debates health care reform , most now accept the moral obligation to offer access to basic health care, and has given the government permission to play a role in that task.
That same government, is putting their money into the production of foods that cause major health problems, and expensive medical costs (Bradley, 2012). Dr Amy Kristina Herbert, a pediatric dentist, describes it like this,” it is the subsidizing that keeps the foods that contain HFCS low to consumers…as a major additive in fast food, corn….keeps fast food cheap…Anything processed tends to have HFCS in it, which is a major cause of the over consumption of high energy, low nutrition foods, or empty calories, which leads to weight gain and diabetes.” (Bradley, 2012). The editors for Scientific American agree. Their research has shown that from 1985 until 2010 the price of HFC sweetened beverages dropped 24%, while during that same time the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables went up 39%. There is a way to bring those costs more in line with each with other and that is through eliminating government subsidies to the corn producers and manufacturers. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J., suggest offering subsidies to fruit and vegetable growers to bring those costs down. This would encourage healthier choices at the cash register. However at the very least it is recommended by the Wood Johnson foundation to remove the incentives that are causing people to eat unhealthy (For a healthier country,2012).
The government that is supporting access to health care is also supporting the very thing that is bringing on what may become a health care crisis. With the new research that is now out after 40 plus years of HFC it seems the most wise and cost effective approach for reducing diabetes is for the US government to eliminate subsidies that are making bad nutrition artificially cheap. As the lead producer of HFC, the United States has a moral obligation to the world, to allow pricing to naturally encourage healthier choices (Bradley, 2012). Conclusion:
We now know that HFC is a major contributor to the dramatic increase in obesity and diabetes our country has seen over the last 30 years. First , the United States Government needs to do the wise thing and stop subsidizing HFC, this will naturally increase the price of HFC and decrease the rate at which it is used as a food additive. Part of these extra funds could go to subsidize fresh fruit and vegetable growers, causing healthier foods to be more affordable. Second we could follow Europe’s lead and stop allowing HFC as a food additive. HFC is causing problems for Americans with their weight and diabetes. America needs to quit using HFC as a food additive to stop, or at least decrease the alarming rates of diabetes and obesity that are plaguing our country (Goran et al, 2012).