High fructose corn syrup causes diabetes-myth vs science

The Skeptical Raptor comments:

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of baseless claims trying to link high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and a variety of diseases, especially Type 2 diabetes. Like many of these medical myths, there is, at its core, some tiny bit of evidence that is generally misinterpreted or misused. But let’s take a close look at Type 2 diabetes, HFCS and the evidence that either supports or refutes the hypothesis that drinking HFCS is any more responsible for the disease than other sugars.

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26 thoughts on “High fructose corn syrup causes diabetes-myth vs science”

  1. Hmmmm… the author’s assertion that the four common sugars are all the ‘same chemical’ is just plain wrong. Fructose has a 5-membered ring whereas glucose has a 6-membered ring. Different structures lead to different fates – notably that fructose is metabolized chiefly in the liver, unlike glucose which is processed throughout the body. Whether or not these differences have anything to do with Type 2 diabetes, I don’t know. But the assertion that ‘sugar is sugar’ is false. It’s a bit like saying ‘salt is salt’ when comparing sodium chloride and potassium chloride.

  2. All I know is that I feel better now that I have replaced some HFCS sweetened products with sugar sweetened products and cut others completely from my diet.

  3. I agree that the author phrased that badly. Judging from the context, I think he meant to say that all fructose is the same chemical — i.e., all fructose is fructose — and similarly all glucose is the same chemical, all galactose is the same chemical, and all ribose is the same chemical. It’s quite clear in the article that they are four different chemicals.

  4. It’s about how fast and far a particular food raises your blood sugar level. HFCS is in many cases a more “efficient” way to deliver a high blood sugar spike than some other sugars. But, think about eating a teaspoon of sugar or an amount of strawberries that contain the same amount of sugar. The strawberries are good for you, the granulated sugar not so much.

  5. A question in my mind: if fructose is good for you in apples, grapes, and strawberries, why would it be harmful to you in corn?

  6. Two points:
    Diabetes is genetic you get it from your parents not your diet. The confusion comes into play because if you have diabetes your diet can influence the symptoms. Most people think that the symptoms ARE diabetes and that reducing or changing the symptoms is the same as “curing” diabetes. If you do not have diabetes consuming fructose or all the fruit you want will not give it to you.
    The second issue comes into the confusion about how a sugar or any food is “metabolized”. 100% of the carbohydrates you eat are converted to glucose. That is what runs your body, powers your brain and muscles and it is what you must have to live. Of course glucose doesn’t need to be converted to glucose, duh! and of course all the rest of the carbs must be converted to glucose. This does not mean there is something neferious about your liver converting fructose to glucose. This is what your liver is supposed to do. If you eat the best fruits and vegetables available to mankind your body coverts all the carbs to glucose just as it would the sugar in a big gulp. Your body does not care where you get the glucose from or what carbohydrate is consumed.

    There is a HFCS derangement syndrome that is infecting peoples thinking. Even doctors who presumably have studied chemistry and understand the human organs functions are caught up in this HFCS derangement syndrome. I would seriously question the worth of any doctor who does not understand this simple concept.

  7. A recent report on medicalxpress.com (“Key protein accelerates diabetes in two ways”) implicates the protein TXNIP, which controls the ability of beta cells to make insulin. To say “Substance X causes Disease Y” is very naive. Most single-agent pathenogens have been long since identified, and the diseases we cannot yet fully characterize or cure largely have multiple simultaneous causative factors. Thay’s why they are still puzzling: single factor controlled experimemts are no longer sufficient to isolate causes.

  8. I believe the reference to “same” is to caloric content and it was a very general statement. For that part they are the same. If you drill down a bit, they are structurally different, one is a ketose and the other an aldose, so metabolylic pathways are a bit different, as are the hemiacetal/hemiketal structures they form. However, as noted, fructose gets converted to glucose. You won’t get any fatter drinking 100 Calories of HFCS than 50:50 fructose:glucose (sucrose). The point of the reference is that we aren’t really sure what causes type 2 diabetes.
    As for NaCl and KCl both being salts, both are the reaction products of a strong acid and a strong base, dissociate in water and do all the things chemicals classified as “salts” do. So, they are salts. “Table” salt is usually NaCl, however, I believe some places use mixtures such as sea salt as table salt.

  9. They have prettier, more digestable covers? Corn syrup is mostly glucose. Any additional fructose would make it HFCS, since about any fructose would make it higher than normal corn syrup. It is a lower cost sugar and is popular because of the highter cost of sugar due to import tarriffs.

  10. What the article somewhat skims around is that the vast majority of “sugar” consumed comes as the glucose polysaccharide amylopectin.
    Much dietary advice considers foods high in amylopectin (along with amylose) to be “essential”. Even for people who test as glucose intolerant.
    Mentioning galactose and (especially) ribose dosn’t appear to be relevent to the issue in hand at all.

  11. The glucose and fructose in HFCS can be adsorbed without needing any digestion. Sucrose needs to be hydrolised to glucose and fructose first. This only happens in the small intestine. Fruits generally contain a mixture of sucrose, glucose and fructose. But these are inside plant cells, which must be either mechanically or chemically broken into.

  12. Whilst the liver could in theory convert fructose or galactose into glucose it is in practice unlikely to do so. (Especially if there is plenty of glucose being delivered in the hepatic portal vein.) The enzymes available to animals do not make this simple. When the liver does produce glucose its precursors are typically lactate, glycerol, alanine and glutamine.

    A more typically fate of both fructose and galactose would be for the liver to turn them into fats. The human body has no ability to store either fructose or galactose and only a limited ability to store glucose. Which is probably the actual reason for “prefering” sugars for respiration. (Along with their not being usable for much else. Fats and proteins by comparison can be stored and form vital parts in making cells.)

    The only cells which which actually need glucose are those without mitochondria. Which are mature red blood corpuscles (and cancer cells). Even though the blood–brain barrier blocks lipoproteins (thus preventing beta-oxidation) neurons can metabolise lactate, pyruvate and other small organic molecules. (Glycolysis in red blood corpuscles produces pyruvate.)

    The human body can easily produce the fairly small amount of glucose actually needed via gluconeogenesis. But it cannot change instantly from primarily glycosis to ketosis & beta-oxidation. (Especially in someone adapted to a high glucose diet.)

  13. fructose actually has a slightly lower calorie count per gram than sucrose – the “natural” sugar.

  14. interestingly HFCS is much cheaper than regular sugar and would still be used even if the price support program for sugar was removed. in fact one of the more recent NAFTA complaints is from Mexican sugar farmers who think HFCS will flood the Mexican market and displace Mexican sucrose. Needless to say free sugar trade has been delayed.

    Note that we have a sugar price support program which restricts imports to 40% of the total and only allows individual states to produce an amount similar to the previous year. Any sugar produced beyond that can not be sold. It isn’t a tariff at all.

  15. So far, this is all just highly speculative stuff. My relatives ate just tons of corn 5-6 ears per day (in season). No problems. A sane person would just limit sugars and other carbs because of the calories.

  16. 100% of carbs is converted to glucose. Not too hard to understand. What do you think it is converted to? Oh that’s right you think it is converted to fat. But here I sit at 70 years old having probably eaten 50 tons of carbs in my life and I weigh 200 lbs. But wait! You said it was converted to fat!! Your body converts unused carbs, fat and protein to body fat. That is normal. But the key word is “unused”. It doesn’t matter what you eat; it could be the best organic vegetables or McDonald’s fries if your body doesn’t need the nutrients it converts it to body fat. BUT, later, maybe while you sleep or when you take a hike your body converts the fat to glucose and you burn it in your muscles and brain. There really is no exception. As for your cells actually needing glucose, what do you think your muscles and brain is using for energy???? DUH! There simply is no exception. 100% of carbs are converted to glucose. What happens next depends on your activity, consumption and unique physiological consideration. It may not be stored as fat. It may mostly be stored as fat (for later use)
    I might add that this belief that your body does not store much glucose or glycogen is mistaken. If you only sit in front of the TV the capacity to store glycogen is smaller then id you run marathons. But a major part of athletic training is to build up the ability for the muscles and liver to store glycogen. Marathon runners would drop like flies if your mistaken belief about the inability of the body to store glycogen were true.

    Your reference to cancer cells consuming glucose seems to go to the issue of your belief system. I am aware of the theories about starving cancer and not a fan of that theory. I would defy you to prove it.

  17. As the author of this article, I didn’t write what I meant to write. I’m typing too fast for my own good. I know that ribose, fructose, glucose and galactose are not the same chemical. I meant that no matter what the source of those 4 sugars, they are the exact same chemical.

    I can’t believe I missed that in editing. Will be fixed in a few seconds.

  18. I’m sorry but there are two types of diabetes (which I discussed in the article). Type 1 has no known cause and no known cure. But it can be treated and managed through regular insulin injections plus diet and exercise. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that destroys the beta Islet cells of the pancreas. We don’t know what causes that autoimmune attack, but it’s probably genetic with some environmental issue.

    Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease that arises from a combination of genetics, weight, diet, and possibly too much ingestion of sugars.

    And no, not 100% of carbohydrates you eat are converted into glucose. Ribose, for example, is absorbed and used to build RNA and DNA molecules. Fructose and galactose can be incorporated into the Kreb’s cycle and converted into amino acids. And ATP, which is actually the energy used by cells.

  19. Diabetes is caused entirely by trans-fats specifically by trans-fatty acid poisoning of the modified (or short) Electron Transport Chain which underpins much of the endocrine system. The mETC has a hole (in the semiconductor sense) between the second and third phosphorylation stages which terminates the chain resulting in the output of ADP rather than ATP. ADP is used by insulin and the glucagon inhibitor generators to produce both. The TFA with a hydrogen in the trans rather than the cis isomer position blocks the hole allowing the electrons to proceed to the third stage of the chain (an evolutionary left over) and produce ATP instead which cannot be used by the generators.

    The unnatural TFAs in refined, hydrogenated or non-hydrogenated (UK) vegetable oil are the sole cause of this disease has as been known for 60 years. Type 2 diabetes’s first case was eighty years ago in 1933 in the USA just 22 years after the introduction of the (partial) hydrogenation process.

    While most individuals can in principle be given type 2 most people are of a curable genetic sub-type except in some racial groups like south Asians, Eskimos and Red Indians. If they maintain a low level of natural cis-isomer form fatty acids in their diets their cellular repair mechanisms will reverse diabetes. Indeed even some people exhibiting even advanced type 2 are curable by this method (about 20% in the USA). Two of the four main genetic subtypes are incurable however as the cellular repair mechanism cannot remove and replace the offending TFA. These amount to about 80+% of the caseload USA and typically more in other countries.

    The effect of the poisoning (I have done the modelling) can best be described as Gaussian Line Broadening of the Set Point Distribution Functions for both Insulin and the Glucagon Inhibitor.

    Diabetes 2 is deliberately being caused by the drug companies and the medical profession. It is a scam which makes AGW look amateurish by comparison.

    All other supposed causes are complete BS.

    Insulin Resistance and the Metabolic Syndrome (which underlie obesity and make diabetes worse) are cureable by the same method.

  20. I must qualify:

    “most people are of a curable genetic sub-type …”

    with: and so do not get diabetes in the first place.

    In practice at most 20% of diagnosed cases are cureable, for most countries it is significantly less than this.

  21. A metabolic disease! That is a made up term. If you have diabetes (type II) then you have it from birth. Your symptoms may not show up until you are 20 or 30 or even older. When you “treat” diabetes you are treating your symptoms and managing the effects of diabetes. You can’t cure it and you can’t “catch” it from to much ingestion of sugar. You don’t “catch” it from gaining weight either. It is common especially for women who already have diabetes to gain weight and at about the same time discover (because the symptoms become obvious) that they have diabetes. Hence the old wives tales that gaining weight is a precursor of diabetes ( or part of that famous but inaccurate “metabolic syndrome”.
    I would suggest a simple experiment to prove ingesting sugar causes diabetes: Find a willing person and test them for diabetes. Once you determine they don’t have it put them in a high carb diet and see how long it takes to “catch” diabetes from the nasty old carbs… crickets chirping… Find something useful to do while you wait…

  22. It is worth noting that while the first cases of diabetes 2 occured in the 1930s. HFCS was not introduced until about the mid sixties and therefore could not have been the cause of this then new “condition”.

    The purpose of these efforts to pin the blame on other things is part of a co-ordinated effort to produce a blinding mass of pseudo-scientific junk research to deceive the people for filthy lucre. It is very similar to AGW in that respect. The media is controlled as it is over AGW mostly by restricting coverage of this topic to well paid highly “trained experts” who ride the gravy train. Sometimes individual TV productions are controlled in fine detail to further the deceptions. It is shocking once you realise how the whol;e rotten mass of corruption works.

    Note that peripheral neuropathy cures also. It seems to me to be the result of auto-immune system attacks on nerve myelin to which excess blood glucose has been bound. As those with diabetes are typically on high trans fat diets the myelin itself contains high concentrations of TFAs which the immune system recognises as alien matter. This makes the attacks much worse.

    The neuropathy of diabetes is similar to that in MS with the same symptoms of bands and tingling. I have cured these symptoms in MS. In progressive MS the immune system attacks are possibly initiated by CP bound to the myelin but exacerbated by TFAs as in diabetes 2.

    CV disease and dementia are also mainly trans fat conditions. In my limited experience CV disease can be reversed as above.

  23. Fructose is NOT a 5-membered ring – the difference to glucose is the orientation of one pair of H and OH moieties attached to one single C in the hexose ring. The human body coverts glucose to fructose and back again quite happily and pretty much doesn’t care which one it gets from food.

  24. Funny, I remember back when fructose was the “natural” sugar. That’s actually why the marketers decided on the name High Fructose Corn Syrup. It was hailed as practically organic compared to the evil Processed Sugar we got from cane. The older you get, the more obvious it is that the majority of so-called “health” advice is just competitive marketing.

  25. Can’t believe I missed this…. you’re wrong, Rob. Fructose is a 5-ring. The body must go through great pains to make it a 6, if at all.

  26. I feel better on high fructose corn syrup products compared to sugar products. With sugar I get irritability, burning feet and very sensitive ears. I notice less film on teeth with HFCS too. I know of someone else that prefers HFCS over sugar too. He drinks sodas with it all the time. He does not eat sugar. He said if he does he gets headaches. His dentist is amazed at the good health of his teeth.

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