I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

March 21, 2010

U.S. Task Force on Childhood Obesity looking for ideas

We’ll see whether this has any impact, given some of the recent discoveries about the role of fructose in the obesity epidemic.

Task Force asks public for ideas on how to solve the obesity challenge (March 17, 2010, press release)

Federal Register request for input, March 16, 2010:

[Text version] [PDF version]

On Feb. 9, 2010, President Obama created the first-ever federal task force to enhance coordination between private sector companies, not-for-profits, agencies within the government and other organizations to address the problem of childhood obesity. The Presidential Memo that established the Task Force directed senior officials from executive agencies and the White House to develop a comprehensive interagency action plan that details a coordinated strategy, identifies key benchmarks and goals, describes research gaps and needs, and assists in the development of legislative, budgetary, and policy proposals that can improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and communities.

Now, Dr. Robert Lustig spoke about the basic problem with FDA and USDA on this issue in a lecture (see “The toxic effects of … sugar“).  He said that the biggest problem is not lack of exercise, but ingesting too much fructose.  (If lack of exercise is the reason, explain why there’s an epidemic of obese six-month-olds.)

Lustig says that the studies linking fat consumption and heart disease did not control for sugar consumption.  He pointed out that in Western societies high-fat diets are high-sugar diets.   And he said that FDA won’t regulate fructose because it’s not an acute toxin, but a chronic toxin leading to metabolic syndrome (plus, the FDA considers it “natural”—which Dr. Lustig notes is true only on the technicality that HFCS is made from a natural product—HFCS is highly processed and refined).  And the USDA, which controls the food pyramid, won’t touch high fructose corn syrup because it’s made from corn.  (See also “Junk food turns rats into addicts. Bacon, cheesecake, Ho Hos alter brain’s pleasures centers.”)

The Federal Register notice points people to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative – http://www.letsmove.gov/.  I certainly support this, but I think they need to go further and start looking at the connection between fructose and obesity.  The site has links to all sorts of useful information, including a link to the Food Environment Atlas from USDA which shows consumption of various foods around the U.S., as well as maps showing diabetes and obesity rates (under “Health”).

While there’s no acknowledgement that the type of sugar we’re consuming has an effect, I did notice that there are signs that someone in the government is paying attention.  Water is recommended as the main drink.  Fruit juices are discouraged, as are “added sugars.”  But they don’t appear to have made the leap yet to the connection between fructose and the metabolic syndrome, which appears to be even more important than the number of calories consumed or burned.

Related posts:

Update on fructose – Dr. Lustig on Nightline” and “Fructose overdose

See also:

Laura Sanders.  “Junk food turns rats into addicts. Bacon, cheesecake, Ho Hos alter brain’s pleasures centers.” Science News.  November 21, 2009.

Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny. “Society of Neuroscience Program.”  ‘Neuroscience 2009′ Conference. October 17-21, 2009.  Chicago.

Advertisements

March 14, 2010

The toxic effects of … sugar

UCSF Lecture on Sugar & Obesity Goes Viral as Experts Confront Health Crisis

March 10, 2010 UCSF news release (University of California San Francisco)

Background

Metabolic syndrome (from National Library of Medicine) – a group of conditions that put you at risk for heart disease and diabetes. These conditions are

See also Metabolic Syndrome from the Nemours Foundation.

Connection between sugar and the metabolic syndrome

The news release includes a presentation by Dr. Robert H. Lustig, UCSF, on “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” (approx. 1h, 30min.)

Dr. Lustig explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin. Series: UCSF Mini Medical School for the Public [7/2009].  (In case you don’t have an hour and a half to spare, I found a basic version of Lustig’s presentation on the NIEHS website.  Also includes a QuickTime version of the presentation Lustig gave at that workshop.)

I’m still convinced that environmental chemicals could be contributing to occurrence of metabolic syndrome, but Dr. Lustig’s presentation was eye-opening.  I don’t understand all the biochemistry, but he makes what I think is a convincing argument that fructose, whether from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or from refined sugar (sugar = fructose + glucose), is responsible for the development of metabolic syndrome.

The basic reason is not because we’re taking in too many calories, but that fructose is metabolized differently than glucose is.

Lustig goes through the history of sugar in drinks and food and the production of HFCS before diving into biochemistry.  He compares the metabolism of glucose, ethanol, and fructose, covering all the metabolic pathways for each.

All of the cells in the body can metabolize glucose, some ethanol is absorbed bv the gastrointestinal tract, then metabolized by the brain and liver.

Fructose is primarily metabolized by the liver.  I won’t go into the details here, but fructose increases the level of triglycerides, messes with the insulin and leptin processes, makes the pancreas work harder, and has other negative effects on your body.

Dr. Lustig makes a very convincing argument that overconsumption of fructose has causes metabolic syndrome and had led to the obesity epidemic.

Some people argue that it’s Americans’ eating habits and lack of exercise that have caused the obesity epidemic.  Lustig asks, if that’s true, how do you explain the epidemic of obese six-month-olds? (Lustig looks at the amount of sugar contained in many formulas.)

Lustig also notes that the role of exercise isn’t really to burn calories, but to keep our bodies’ metabolic processes running smoothly and discusses the important role of fiber in fructose metabolism.

From the NIEHS website (a basic version of Lustig’s presentation)

(presented at a workshop on “Children’s Environmental Health Research: Past, Present & Future,” Jan. 2007) – this workshop had sessions focusing on lead and neurotoxicity, asthma, metabolic disorders, and ADHD)

Summary

Fructose (sucrose or HFCS) consumption has increased in the past 30 years, coinciding with the obesity epidemic

  • Fructose is everywhere
  • Fructose is not glucose

• Hepatic fructose metabolism leads to all the manifestations of the Metabolic Syndrome:

      • hypertension
      • de novo lipogenesis, dyslipidemia, and hepatic steatosis
      • inflammation
      • hepatic insulin resistance
      • obesity
      • CNS leptin resistance, promoting continuous consumption

• Fructose ingestion interferes with obesity intervention
• Fructose is a chronic toxin (it’s metabolized like ethanol)

Links (from UCSF)

UCSF Center for Obesity Assessment, Study & Treatment (COAST)

WATCH Clinic
UCSF Children’s Hospital

Adult Weight Management Program
UCSF Medical Center

New Center to Focus on Effects of Stress, Socioeconomic Status on Obesity
UCSF Today, August 11, 2009

Sugar is a Poison, Says UCSF Obesity Expert
Science Café, June 25, 2009

The Biology of Fat (or Why Literally Running Away from Stress Is a Good Idea)
Science Café, July 6, 2007

Note: A much briefer (and less rigorous) discussion of the harmful effects of HFCS can be found at High-Fructose Corn Syrup Truth, Still Not Sexy, HFCS.

Blog at WordPress.com.