Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Need to Read This Article on How Sugar Metabolism Affects Health

This is a fascinating article by Gary Taubes on the effects of sugar (particularly fructose) on diabetes, obesity and cancer. One of my Facebook friends linked to it and it is a definite must read. Here are my Cliff's Notes.

Apparently we metabolize glucose and sucrose differently. Table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup both have a similar mix of glucose and fructose (about 50-50). While glucose can be metabolized by all cells in your body, fructose is metabolized by your liver. High fructose diets in mice and rats lead to high storage of fat because the liver converts the fructose into fat for storage. This can lead to obesity and having a "fatty liver." Actually, you may not be overweight and still have a fatty liver. This is my personal fear. I'm still pretty trim--but I love high sugar foods. I like to pig out on treats, cookies, syrupy pancakes, etc. Fortunately, I don't drink a lot of pop.

What is new about Taubes' article is the emphasis on sugar in the diet over fat. Apparently, the hypothesis of fructose as a driver for obesity, diabetes and heart disease was looked down upon in the research community until recently. However, data that supported the influence of high fat on health don't rule out high sugar because usually a high fat diet goes hand in hand with a high sugar diet.

Back to the liver. Fatty liver is highly correlated with insulin-resistance which can lead to diabetes. Insulin-resistance means, simply, that your body's cells ignore insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas which tells your cells to absorb glucose and, thus, lowers your blood sugar levels. You can have insulin resistance but not be diabetic, but ultimately insulin resistance is leading you down that path.

What I was unaware of was the link  between insulin resistance and cancer. I've often assumed that cancer rates have increased in the developed Western world almost exclusively due to increased lifespan, although I should have known better since I was aware that diet is a risk factor for cancer. Taubes cites data on the incidence of cancer in high-fat, high-sugar vs. low-fat, low sugar cultures that sounds convincing. I've long been aware that mutations lead to out-of-control proliferation of cells in the body. What is new to me is the influence of insulin-resistance on cell division. If you develop insulin-resistance your body increases its production of insulin and other insulin-like growth factors to compensate. This heightened concentration of insulin and insulin-related hormones can speed up the growth of pre-cancerous and cancerous cells.

So there you have it. Definitely read the article and then have your wife or husband read the article--and then say goodbye to eating fifteen cookies or a nice stack of 10 pancakes in one sitting.


  1. The Q&A with readers is also good reading.

  2. So, my father-in-law has a blog all about health and nutrition (and he's working on a book) that is based a lot on the word of wisdom. He also linked to this article. I found it very interesting. If you're interested in checking out his blog the address is I know I'm biased but it's good reading.

  3. Thanks Carrie. His blog looks very interesting. I added to my Google Reader.

    Isn't it crazy how messed up nutritional advice has been over the past several decades?

    One more link. Robert Lustig, and endocrinologist at UCSF has a 1.5 hour lecture on sugar that is really good:

  4. I blame the corn lobby. Dirty Iowans.

  5. Good stuff, thanks Rob. I got into all of this a couple of years ago after reading Food Inc. and Omnivore's Dilemma. You couple this country's eating habit with rising youth obesity statistics and the outlook for nation's health is really scary. Have y'all seen these slides?

  6. Wow those are some scary maps Mat. Just in the 12 years since we graduated high school UT has gone from 10-14% of adults w/BMI>30 to 20-24%! What in the yewt is going on?