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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bonnie Verhunce

Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup That Bad?

High fructose corn syrup is a popular ingredient in sodas, fruit flavored drinks and most processed foods. It has become a staple alternative to cane sugar in many foods and beverages, but is it safe? There has been much controversy and debate over the health effects from long-term usage of high-fructose corn syrup. So far, research has yielded mixed results about its adverse consequences.

High consumption of added sugar in any form can lead to numerous health problems, including

weight gain, dental cavities, poor nutrition and increased risks of heart attacks. While the health concerns of excess sugar consumption may seem obvious, what about the specific case of high-fructose corn syrup? Should we go out of our way to exclude it from our diet, even in moderate consumption?

High-fructose corn syrup and cane sugar are not biochemically identical – cane sugar is a naturally occurring ingredient, whereas high-fructose corn syrup is an industrial product, and is processed differently by the body than naturally occurring sugar [1]. Sometimes high-fructose corn syrup is produced from genetically modified corn [2].

A study at Princeton University [3] found that rats from two test groups, one that consumed high-fructose corn syrup and another standard table sugar, yielded different results in the rats’ obesity -- even with the same caloric intake. The group of rats that consumed high-fructose corn syrup experienced abnormal weight gain – particularly in the abdominal region – and also elevated triglyceride levels. Along with high quantities of HDL, otherwise known as bad cholesterol, high triglyceride levels can cause arterial blockage and may increase the risk of heart disease, hypertension and even strokes.

Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes [4]. An increased risk of diabetes was observed from the metabolic profile in the study of rats that were given sugar-sweetened beverages, exhibiting impaired glucose and insulin homeostasis.

Long-term liver damage has been cited as a side effect to consuming high-fructose corn syrup [5]. This is particularly risky to individuals who live a sedentary lifestyle. Excess consumption can also result in a fatty liver [6].

One indirect health concern pertaining to high-fructose corn syrup is the contamination of mercury [7]. Mercury cell chlor-alkali products are used in the manufacturing of high-fructose corn syrup, which may leave a trace of the toxic heavy metal in its products, which can be up to 0.5micrograms/g of corn syrup. When you consider the average consumption of corn syrup as being around 50g per day, this could lead to a dangerous build up of the heavy metal in the body’s system. References: [1] Accessed September 2011 [2] Accessed September 2011 [3] Bocarsly ME, Powell ES, Avena NM, Hoebel BG., Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2010 Nov;97(1):101-6. Epub 2010 Feb 26. [4] Sheludiakova A, Rooney K, Boakes RA., Eur J Nutr. 2011 Jul 29. [Epub ahead of print] [5] Accessed September 2011 [6] Kretowicz M, Johnson RJ, Ishimoto T, Nakagawa T, Manitius J., Int J Nephrol. 2011;2011:315879. Epub 2011 Jul 17. [7] Dufault R, LeBlanc B, Schnoll R, Cornett C, Schweitzer L, Wallinga D, Hightower J, Patrick L, Lukiw WJ., Environ Health. 2009 Jan 26;8:2.

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