Diabetes May Be Linked To High Fructose Corn Syrup
November 28, 2012

Study Finds Link Between Diabetes And High Fructose Corn Syrup

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Scientists from the University of Southern California and University of Oxford recently revealed that countries that included high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in their food had a 20 percent higher prevalence of diabetes as compared to countries that did not use HFCS in their foods.

The international analysis on national food supplies helps explains the increase in numbers of people with type 2 diabetes, resulting in the rise in health care costs. The study doesn´t provide a direct cause-and-effect relationship, and it shows that the rates of diabetes happened independently of total sugar consumption and obesity levels.

"HFCS appears to pose a serious public health problem on a global scale," explained the study´s principal author Michael Goran, a professor of preventive medicine at USC´s Keck School of Medicine who also serves as the director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center and co-director of the Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute, in a prepared statement. "The study adds to a growing body of scientific literature that indicates HFCS consumption may result in negative health consequences distinct from and more deleterious than natural sugar."

In the paper, the researchers discuss how the United States has the highest per capita consumption of HFCS (25 kilograms/55 pounds per year) out of the 42 countries observed. The second highest per capita consumption of HFCS is found in Hungary (16 kilograms/46 pounds per capita). Other countries with high consumption of HFCS include Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Korea, Japan, Mexico and Slovakia. The countries with the lowest consumption of HFCS include Egypt, Finland, Germany, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Serbia.

For countries with higher use of HFCS, there was an average prevalence of type 2 diabetes of eight percent compared to 6.7 percent in countries that did not include HFCS in their beverages and foods. HFCS has a greater proportion of fructose, making HFCS sweeter and giving processed foods a better appearance and greater stability.

"This research suggests that HFCS can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is one of the most common causes of death in the world today," noted Stanley Ulijaszek, the study´s co-author who serves as the director of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, in the statement.

The scientists also highlighted how the body metabolizes fructose differently than glucose, with fructose metabolism occurring independently of insulin and linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease where insulin is converted into fat in the liver.

"Most populations have an almost insatiable appetite for sweet foods, but regrettably our metabolism has not evolved sufficiently to be able to process the fructose from high fructose corn syrup in the quantities that some people are consuming it," continued Ulijaszek in the statement. "Although this syrup can be found in many of our processed foods and drinks, this varies enormously from country to country."

Furthermore, the team of investigators looked at the factors that led to the U.S. to become the “single largest consumer” of HFCS. They found that, during the 1990s, HFCS made up 40 percent of all caloric sweeteners and was the sweetener used most often in sodas sold in the U.S. In 2008, exports of HFCS from U.S. to Mexico rose “exponentially´ following the removal of trade restrictions. Based on these findings, the researchers advocated that public health strategies be updated to require better labeling of fructose and HFCS content found in processed foods.

Lastly, the article showed the differences in the consumption of HFCS in the European Union. In the EU, there were trade and agricultural policies set on the quotas for HFCS production. Some countries like Sweden and the U.K. decided to not accept their assigned quotas, while countries like Hungary and Slovakia were able to buy the extra quotes from countries that didn´t take them. The researchers believe that this finding on HFCS quotas could impact global trade policies and public health.

According to U.S. News, the scientists completed analysis on data regarding body mass index and diabetes prevalence. The data was pooled from 2000, 2004, and 2007 by the Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors Collaborating Group. The researchers also gathered information from the United Nations on food consumption in different countries to look at the cereals and sugars that were included in local diets.

"If HFCS is a risk factor for diabetes–one of the world's most serious chronic diseases–then we need to rewrite national dietary guidelines and review agriculture trade policies," concluded Tim Lobstein, the director of policy for the International Association for the Study of Obesity, in the statement. "HFCS will join trans fats and salt as ingredients to avoid, and foods should carry warning labels."

Some outside groups have argued that the study is “flawed.”

"Just because an ingredient is available in a nation's diet does not mean it is uniquely the cause of a disease," wrote Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, in a statement.

The findings were recently featured in the journal Global Public Health.