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“Is Sugar Toxic?”

April 21st, 2011 3 Comments

This is the title from an article in the Times last week.  Obviously I was instantly intrigued.

The author’s conclusion which was drawn from a lecture she heard by Robert Lustig called, “The Bitter Truth” (in which he refers to sugar as “toxin” and “poison” and “evil”) and A DECADE of research is, “I’m scared.”

Scared?  After reading the article, I am too!

Outlining the similarity between sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, the cause of diabetes and other major health issues, and cancer, the article is long, but well written.  If you’re on the run, I’ll give you a few quotes and explanations here to wet your whistle.

“Suggesting that sugar might kill us is what zealots do. But Lustig, who has genuine expertise, has accumulated and synthesized a mass of evidence, which he finds compelling enough to convict sugar. His critics consider that evidence insufficient, but there’s no way to know who might be right, or what must be done to find out, without discussing it.” (Which she goes on to do at length.)

“But marketing aside, the two sweeteners are effectively identical in their biological effects. “High-fructose corn syrup, sugar — no difference,” is how Lustig put it in a lecture that I attended in San Francisco last December. “The point is they’re each bad — equally bad, equally poisonous.”

“Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar)….in animals…the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat.

“Rather the context of the science changed: physicians and medical authorities came to accept the idea that a condition known as metabolic syndrome is a major, if not the major, risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimate that some 75 million Americans have metabolic syndrome. For those who have heart attacks, metabolic syndrome will very likely be the reason.”

“What causes the initial insulin resistance?…the correlation between liver fat and insulin resistance in patients, lean or obese, is “remarkably strong.”

“As Lustig points out, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are certainly not “acute toxins” of the kind the F.D.A. typically regulates and the effects of which can be studied over the course of days or months. The question is whether they’re “chronic toxins,” which means “not toxic after one meal, but after 1,000 meals.” This means that what Tappy calls “intervention studies” have to go on for significantly longer than 1,000 meals to be meaningful.”

“Now most researchers will agree that the link between Western diet or lifestyle and cancer manifests itself through this association with obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome — i.e., insulin resistance…Cancer researchers now consider that the problem with insulin resistance is that it leads us to secrete more insulin, and insulin (as well as a related hormone known as insulin-like growth factor) actually promotes tumor growth.”

“They recommend, as the 2007 report did, that we should all work to be lean and more physically active, and that in turn will help us prevent cancer.”

AFTER 9 PAGES online, the author comes to this conclusion:

“Sugar scares me too, obviously.

I’ve been reporting on this subject and studying it for more than a decade.

If sugar just makes us fatter, that’s one thing. We start gaining weight, we eat less of it. But we are also talking about things we can’t see — fatty liver, insulin resistance and all that follows. Officially I’m not supposed to worry because the evidence isn’t conclusive, but I do.”

I’ll be honest, I want nothing more than to eat a box of cookies right now.  Ugh.  But at the same time I’m scared because I know I’m addicted to sugar and that’s why I crave it.  Moderation is miserable, but obviously practical and imperative on so many levels. We aren’t doomed to have lives without sweets though.  The less processed sugar we eat, the sweeter natural fruits and veggies will taste. I know that from experience.

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  • I read something by Dr. Perricone six or seven years ago – about how sugar does nothing but cause deterioration and tear our bodies down. I have an autoimmune condition and my body likes to attack itself without provocation. I don’t need anything else in there wrecking havoc. It’s a battle, being sugar-free. I still consume it, and when I start it’s hard to stop. But this bouts are few and far between and nowhere near the daily dose I use to get. I’ve aged six years, chronologically, since I started eliminating it from my diet. But everything about me looks and feels younger. Sugar really is a kind of crack. I totally believe that. *end rant* :)

    • Wow Buffy, you’ve been really diligent about it. Good for you. And you can live to tell the benefits :)

      Unfortunately I’m riding the sugar crack wave right now….ugh. It’s times like these I miss the bottomless green juice days in NYC.

  • Margaret Franco

    I’ve been reading articles about sugar and why fructose is harmful to our health and why they said it is the cause of many health problems like obesity, diabetes insulin resistance and more. The answers is, most foods we eat are processed. If you’re going to look at the food label, you’ll find that most foods has fructose in their ingredients. Avoiding those foods will get us back to the right form of being healthy.