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Category: Nutrition

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High Fructose Corn Syrup and the Brain

Excessive alcohol use can cause fat accumulation in the liver. Ultimately, This accumulation of fat may lead to liver failure that may actually prove fatal.

But it turns out, that there is another form of fat accumulation in the liver that has nothing to do with consumption of alcohol, hence the name non-alcoholic liver disease (NAFDL). NAFDL is considered the most common liver disorder in developed countries, estimated to be present in an incredible 30% of American adults.

NAFDL is often not a benign condition. It is strongly related to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. That means that people who have NAFDL are far more likely to develop things like type II diabetes and ultimately may even develop cirrhosis of the liver.

But the main concerns for our discussion center on the relationship between NAFDL and issues with sugar metabolism, insulin activity, and, perhaps most importantly, inflammation, the cornerstone of our most dreaded and unfortunately all too common conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, coronary artery disease, and even cancer.

So, as common as this condition is, and its profound relationship to so many other conditions, you definitely want to know what may increase your risk of developing NAFDL, and one of the biggest culprits is the dietary consumption of fructose.

Researchers at the University of Florida have demonstrated that a diet high in fructose dramatically increases the production of fat in the liver. In fact, in a recent report they demonstrated that in individuals who had NAFDL, their consumption of fructose was 2-3x higher than controls (people who did not have this liver disorder).

To be clear, this is the type of sugar typically found in soft drinks and other products made with high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that is widely used in food production here in America

From my perspective as a brain specialist, I was particularly taken by a recent report appearing in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, in which researchers demonstrated a powerful effect of NAFDL, in laboratory animals, in terms of increasing the changes in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. The changes in the brain included a dramatic increase in inflammation in laboratory animals suffering from NAFDL.

This research again confirms the notion that inflammation, as a process, as in this case starting in liver, can be detrimental throughout the body. Further, we know that NAFDL is a powerful cause of inflammation and that there is a strong relationship between the development of NAFDL and the consumption of fructose.

So again, this is a very powerful argument in favor of dramatically reducing your consumption of products containing high fructose corn syrup, despite what advertisers may tell you.

  • Michael Jenkins

    Is NAFLD reversible?

    • Silvio Luis

      Surely it is: low carb diet

    • Lynn Dell

      I have read that it is, at least in the early progression of it. I don’t know about an end stage. A diet very low in sugars (especially fructose) and blood sugar spiking starches is a must. In short, a low carb diet, as the previous reply said.

      • Lynn Dell

        As an example of what is good and not so good to read out there, the following article says to eliminate fats and sugars from the diet. In truth, it is fructose which is converted in the liver to fat, and inflammatory fats should be avoided, NOT healthful fats. My guess is the best way to reverse NAFLD is to reduce sugars and starches, consume healthful fats, AND practice intermittent fasting: http://www.healthline.com/health/fatty-liver#Overview1

  • Ri

    Dr Perlmutter could you please discuss carb cycling for those of us who have adopted a lower carb diet in favor of higher healthy fats and found our weight has stalled and we can not break a plateau. Could this be in part due to our lower intake of carbohydrates and subsequently our metabolism down regulating? Can increasing carbohydrate intake with non gluten carbs occasionally spike leptin levels and boost our metabolism, After watching your podcast with Dr Galland I have started to understand how important the hormone leptin is and how it affects our ability to lose weight.

  • Lynn Dell

    Dr. Lustig was right – “Fructose is a poison.” Not only on account of the liver and metabolic syndrome, but also on account of a possible link between fructose and cancer: http://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/here-s-how-sugar-might-fuel-growth-cancer-n488456

    • Fructose is an integral part of the conception process. Maybe you should read Dr Ray Peat on Fructose. It is not the devil you assume

      • Lynn Dell

        Thanks for the caution, Anthony. I once took too seriously the claim, speaking of what we ingest, that the body has no need for carbohydrates. I have heard that from several in the low carb community. Well, fiber is classified as a carbohydrate, so that message requires qualifications, for the sake of digestive health. What they mean when they say this is the body can create its own glucose from protein.

        Now, I am not sure if fructose is needed in the diet for sperm motility or whatever it helps with in the female.

        • Lynn Dell

          Here is an example of what I’m speaking of. I have a very high regard for Dr. Ede’s blog, and here she cites people groups who eat almost no plants, and almost no carbs, including fiber, and they have almost no heart disease (and it goes without saying they are able to reproduce). Note her claim is the body has no need for carbs (ingested, that is): http://www.diagnosisdiet.com/all-meat-diets/

  • Emaho

    Ok, I believe the term High Fructose Corn Syrup is a misnomer. Table sugar is half glucose and half fructose. And HFCS is, on average, 55% fructose and 45% glucose. So, of course, if you eat a gram of table sugar you get 0.50 gram of fructose, and eating a gram of HFCS gives you 0.55 grams. That’s only 0.05 grams more. The name, IMO, should have been Slightly Higher Fructose Corn Syrup, SHFCS.

    I’m guessing that the term HFCS was coined at a time when fructose was a preferred sweetener because it did not raise blood sugar, aka glucose. So, saying High Fructose implies, incorrectly, that there is a lot more fructose in HFCS than in regular sugar.

    • TechnoTriticale

      Well, the etymology of HFCS is a bit murky, but we’re stuck with it.

      As I understand it, regular corn syrup is largely glucose, so any form of HFCS is higher in fructose. There’s HFCS 42, HFCS 55 and HFCS 90. There’s also HMCS (high maltose corn syrup).

      HFCS 90 is obviously very high, but is supposedly used primarily to bump ’42 to ’55. I have a suspicion, however, that ’90 is also used to make fake “agave nectar”. Even if authentic, agave needs to be avoided entirely (and should really be called Extra High Fructose Agave Root Syrup).

      The main problem with HFCS is that it’s cheap. For decades now, product formulators haven’t had to worry at all about the cost of making their food-like-substance hit any desired sweetness target, so they do. It obviously tests well with focus groups.

      Sure, the fructose in HFCS is free fructose (not bound), and is probably from GMO corn, but the real problem is merely pervasiveness.

  • Nora Lynn Childress Holmes

    My son has Tourette’s, and you might as well throw his medication out if he even eats a piece of cake at a birthday party w hfcs In it. There is a marked change and increase in tics, emotional stability, and OCD behavior within 15 minutes of ingesting hfcs. I wish there was research on production levels of seratonin in the gut when exposed to hfcs

  • art

    maybe the acronym intended to be used is NAFLD instead of NAFDL as has been used in the article?

  • Peg Futrell

    I notice that the summary of the study that you cite (in the Journal of Neuroinflammation) blames NAFDL on a high fat diet and high lipid intake. No mention is made of HFCS. Why then do you cite it here (without correction)?

  • Julie Lockhart

    So, how does this fructose issue relate to real fruit? I.e. apples, oranges, grapes … dried fruit like raisins or prunes.

    • ohneclue@yahoo.com

      The same fructose is in real fruit the same as it is “farmed” out of corn into the concentrations used for the soda pop industry and other products. The fact that it is separated does NOT make it a different sugar-type or biochemical ingredient. ALL fructose behaves exactly the same way in our bodies regardless of the source. This is why I eat NO fruits at all because I eat low carb and there’s simply NOT enough other nutrition in fruits (other than botanical ones like olives, avocados and tomatoes, I eat those “fruits”) to justify my eating them at all. Their biggest contribution to nutrition is high sugars and low fiber. Veggies have a lot more and higher nutritional profiles than any fruit. Since I started leaving out fruits but still eating the superior low-carb veggies, this last August, my6 September A1c went to 5.2, my December A1c went to 5.1 sand my March A1c has lowered to 4.9 — all of which show my health does NOT depend on fruits. And neither does anyone elses.

  • RoswellJohn

    NAFLD can also be caused by Choline deficiency. When I started on a vegan diet I knew that I needed extra Vitamin B12, but no one mentioned Choline. It turns out that Choline is present in meat, fish and beans. And beans are normally part of a vegan/vegetarian diet, but because my mother-in-law hated beans we didn’t eat much of those. So I ended up with a Choline deficiency which caused the NAFLD and one other illness that can be traced to Choline deficiency. Vegans should be aware of this to avoid future problems.

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