Cancer. Heart disease. High blood pressure. Obesity. Diabetes. Premature ageing. What we take for granted as hallmarks of life in the most affluent country on Earth have been popularly linked to everything from genetics to fast food. What if the real answer is so straightforward it’s as near at hand as the closest bottle of Coke? Mounting research pinpoints both cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as definitive agents in all of the “epidemics” this generation has become painfully familiar with.
Insulin resistance, heart disease and diabetes
The link between sugar consumption and diabetes is common knowledge: the pancreas secretes insulin to lower blood sugar after eating, and simple sugars like cane sugar and HFCS cause blood sugar to skyrocket, requiring the pancreas to pump out more insulin. If the pancreas becomes exhausted from dealing with chronically high sugar consumption, blood sugar can spiral to dangerous levels – this is diabetes.
Less familiar is the condition of insulin resistance, where cells become less responsive to the action of insulin, requiring the pancreas to continually amp up the amount of insulin it produces. This may or may not trigger diabetes, but regardless, the end result is the liver’s conversion of these sugars into a saturated fatty acid known as palmitate. Palmitate raises LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), leading to heart disease. Experts say that metabolic syndrome is now the most prominent factor in heart attacks.
Insulin resistance, also known as metabolic syndrome, is thought to be present in 75 million Americans, and is usually connected to the accumulation of fat around the gut. Amazingly, insulin resistance can be induced in test animals in as little a week if they’re given diets with 60 or 70 percent of calories from sugar. Fortunately, when their diets were de-sweetened, the insulin resistance likewise disappeared.
Sugar’s role in feeding cancer
As theWorld Health Organizationconcluded in 2004, people who are obese, diabetic or have metabolic syndrome are all at a higher risk of developing cancer than those who aren’t. The problem is metabolic syndrome itself; researchers believe a large percentage of cancers – up to 80 – are fueled by the effect of insulin on the cancer cells, and the chronically high insulin levels of those with metabolic syndrome means more fuel for the fire. In fact, tumors usually develop mutations to more effectively use insulin for growth. This is especially true for breast and colon cancer.
Sugar and premature ageing
Finally, one of sugar’s least well-known crimes is its central role in skin aging. In short, if a person consumes excess sugar, those sugars will attach to proteins in the blood stream, creating what are known as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. AGEs damage adjacent proteins, and collagen happens to be the most available protein in the body. Effected collagen becomes dry and brittle rather than supple and springy, and wrinkled, sagging skin is the result. The more sugar consumed, the faster skin aging occurs.
With such a daunting rap sheet, it’s no wonder that some researchers studying the effects of cane sugar and HFCS are spooked off these substances altogether. The question is no longer how much sucrose or fructose in the diet is healthy, but whether added sugar should be consumed at all. Robert Lustig, an expert in childhood obesity, doesn’t hesitate to label sugar as “toxic” and “evil.” Rather than having sugar evoke fond memories of lemonade and apple pie, we would all be better off to do the same.