Showing the Health Dangers of Fructose

Image courtesy Flickr/stringy

The Journal of Clinical Investigation published a small but fascinating study in 2009 that showed the stark differences between those who consume a lot of fructose (found as a sweetener in most beverages and processed foods) and those who consume glucose found in vegetables. The main finding is that eating and drinking too much fructose makes you dangerously fat.

The study provides some compelling evidence that being mindful of the type of sugar you eat is key to keeping your brain healthy and happy. Specifically, it supports the notion that the consumption of processed foods laden with fructose, including high fructose corn syrup, leads to more visceral fat in particular, which in turn produces pro-inflammatory signals that are bad for your brain.

This study had just 32 participants. Over the 10-week trial, the participants who consumed 25 percent of their calories from fructose versus glucose showed significant increases in several negative health parameters, including a 14 percent increase in visceral fat (in just 10 weeks!). They found that fructose consumption increased the expression of genes that promote visceral fat deposits and there was a 45% increase of small, dense LDL cholesterol, which is emerging as a significant marker of health risk.

All sugars — glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose and anything else that ends in “ose” — are carbohydrates. But your body and brain responds very differently to them, depending on the type of sugar you consume. Fructose is about twice as sweet as glucose and it occurs naturally in fruit. But fresh fruit is not where most people get their fructose these days. Instead, most fructose is found in added sugars, ranging from high fructose corn syrup HFCS (which for all practical purposes is the same at sucrose) to evaporated cane juice and crystalline fructose.

This study shows how consuming a lot of fructose makes sugar processing more difficult for your body. Researchers measured the amount of visceral fat, the fat that surrounds your internal organs, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and also assessed how the different sugars effects you body’s ability to process sugar by measuring insulin sensitivity. This is a big deal, since an estimated 100 million Americans have “pre-diabetes” and over time diabetes contributes to brain shrinkage.

To learn more about fructose and visceral fat, and depression levels, check out this video.

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Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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