Only two weeks of modest consumption of high-fructose corn syrup causes cholesterol and triglyceride levels to rise, and the more consumed, the greater the increases.
Researchers divided 85 people chosen for their healthy lipid profiles into four groups. One group consumed drinks sweetened with 25% high-fructose corn syrup; the second with a 17.5% concentration; the third 10%; and the last drinks sweetened only with aspartame.
The results, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, were consistent: The more corn syrup, the worse the lipid profile. While LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) in the aspartame group remained the same before and after the diet, the 10% group went to 102 from 95, the 17.5% to 102 from 93, and the 25% group to 107 from 91. Optimal LDL levels are under 100.
Other blood tests of cardiovascular risk – non-HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, uric acid and others – moved in the same negative directions.
“It was a surprise that adding as little as the equivalent of a half-can of soda at breakfast, lunch and dinner was enough to produce significant increases in risk for cardiovascular disease,” said the lead author, Kimber L. Stanhope, a research scientist at the University of California, Davis. “Our bodies respond to a relatively small increase in sugar, and that’s important information.”
Clinically, I have found the most pronounced effects of high-fructose corn syrup are on triglycerides and uric acid. As noted in the study, the negative effects are very quick to manifest in lab work.
Fructose is the nature sugar found in fruit. If you eat the fruit, like an orange or an apple, the fructose is offset by the fiber in the fruit and is handled quite well by the body. In fact, I recommend my patients eat two fruits servings per day.
However, if you drink the juice, there is no fiber to offset the fructose and the sugar is concentrated in the juice so you typically consume more than one serving in even a small glass.
High fructose corn syrup is on a different level completely. The concentration of fructose is so high that it overwhelms sugar metabolism driving triglyceride production sky high.
While the aspartame did not adversely affect serum lipids, there are serious health issues associated with it as well. A vast majority of complaints by consumers to the FDA are related to aspartame consumption. It has been implicated in cancer, birth defects, and even death.
Although I think this was a good short-term study that raises real concerns about consumption of even small amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, I need to point out some misconceptions. LDL is not really “bad” cholesterol, it’s just low density. The optimal levels of LDL are below 130, not 100. Driving LDL levels below 100 is the goal of statin drug therapy. Now that half the population over the age of 45 is being placed on statin drugs I guess one could argue that statin drug users are the new norm.
The Bottom Line:
Stay away from high-fructose corn syrup. If you read the labels, you’ll find that is not an easy task. The pervasive nature of this chemical in the American diet is a major factor driving cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death in our country.
Source: April 27, 2015 The New York Times