As you probably would guess, when I read articles in science, I tend to emphasize research on vaccines, cancer, and a few other related issues. There’s so much information out there, one has to focus or there will not be enough time to watch college football games on Saturday. For years, one of the more popular questions I have seen is about sugar and cancer – does eating sugar cause or promote cancer?
A recent paper in Nature Communications seemed to encourage the people who are pushing an association between sugar and cancer. Of course, our usual suspects of pseudoscience and false healthcare jumped on board with their clickbait headlines trying to scare everyone about sugar and cancer.
But what are the facts about sugar and cancer. Should you avoid eating a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates? Well, probably, but not because of cancer.
That’s why we are here. To separate the science from the pseudoscience, we need to look at this more carefully. What we’re going to see is that you’re not going to get cancer from putting a couple of teaspoons of it in your coffee. And you’re not going to cure cancer by avoid sugar. Sugar and cancer is much more complicated than that. Continue reading “Sugar and cancer – examining the science behind the claims”
Chemistry is important. If you’re going to make negative claims about GMO sugar or high fructose corn syrup, we ought to be able to look at these different sugar molecules and confirm a difference between them. So let’s take a look at sugar from three different sources that capture our attention. Sorry, but there will be a quiz afterwards, so please pay attention.
A. GMO sugar after consuming it
B. Natural sugar after consuming it
C. High fructose corn syrup GMO sugar after consuming it
Honestly, I don’t get the issues with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Part of my brain thinks that, as we’ve seen with monosodium glutamate (MSG), people just get scared of a chemical name, rather than making an evidence-based analysis of what we’re really eating. For example, “high fructose” sounds like there’s too much of evil fructose, and it will certainly cause some health problem. It must! Except, the evidence says otherwise.
I think an article by the loathsome and much ridiculed David “Avocado” Wolfe perfectly summarizes some of the pseudoscience surrounding HFCS and cancer – apparently converting corn syrup into high fructose corn syrup magically turns it into a cancer-causing poison. Now most of you will just ignore what Wolfe says about anything because he lacks any science knowledge in his writing – but maybe I reach a couple of people who saw that article and want more scientific evidence about it. Let’s look into it.
One of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about a new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.” And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe. The so-called Food Babe has made a lot of money endorsing a belief that all chemicals are evil, ignoring the fact that all life, the air, and water are made of chemicals. And so it is with high fructose corn syrup.
People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.
Another current satanic chemical is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into one of the the most “chemicals” of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?
That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.
I am generally skeptical of any claim that anything causes cancer. That doesn’t mean I reject every claim that something or another causes cancer – smoking, sunlight, obesity, viruses, genes have all been linked to certain cancers. Now, there’s a claim that sugar causes cancer – is there anything there?
I am convinced that part of the anti-GMO beliefs center on some ridiculous “natural genetic selection is inherently better than man-made genetic selection.” Well, the evidence doesn’t support that nonsense, but that rarely matters to those who rely upon their misinformed opinion rather than scientific evidence.
One of the tropes that have been passed around is about honey and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – honey is good, HFCS is bad. Scientifically, this is ridiculous, but the honey industry, disregarding the potential that science may actually refute that trope, funded a real scientific study about honey and high fructose corn syrup – well, let’s just say that the results confirm that honey is not the “nectar of the gods.”
This article was written by Linda Tock, an American living in Denmark, who has an extensive research background in the biomedical sciences. She has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Chemistry and Health, and will be pursuing a Ph.D. Ms. Tock has a fascination for Daphnia, an interesting planktonic crustacean, that is an important organism in studying pollution and environmental stresses. She’s also a passionate Boston Red Sox fan, so she had to endure a difficult year.
So I received a message from a friend of mine, wanting my opinion on this news article, which loudly proclaims that artificial sweeteners are linked to obesity. Because it was a genuine question regarding the science behind the study, and not a ‘concern troll’ about my preference for diet cola, I went and looked at the study itself to see what the fuss was about.
Non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) are among the most widely used food additives worldwide, regularly consumed by lean and obese individuals alike. NAS consumption is considered safe and beneficial owing to their low caloric content, yet supporting scientific data remain sparse and controversial. Here we demonstrate that consumption of commonly used NAS formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota. These NAS-mediated deleterious metabolic effects are abrogated by antibiotic treatment, and are fully transferrable to germ-free mice upon faecal transplantation of microbiota configurations from NAS-consuming mice, or of microbiota anaerobically incubated in the presence of NAS. We identify NAS-altered microbial metabolic pathways that are linked to host susceptibility to metabolic disease, and demonstrate similar NAS-induced dysbiosis and glucose intolerance in healthy human subjects. Collectively, our results link NAS consumption, dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities, thereby calling for a reassessment of massive NAS usage.
I know that 90% of my articles are about vaccines. I know that I’ve shown over and over again that vaccines are effective and about as safe as anything in medicine. And I know that vaccines don’t cause autism. Obviously, I never have to write another article about vaccines. Hah.
OK, it’s never going to happen.
So let’s talk about beer. Everyone loves beer. Maybe not everyone, but good beer can be really good.
The arrogantly named food blogger, Food Babe (real name–Vani Hari), who passes along anecdotes like they were real data, and who invents pseudoscience faster than a homeopath, has recently been on a warpath about beer ingredients. She’s gone after the breweries for adding GMO grains (who cares, they are safe), coloring, and that evil chemical, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). She never quite explains what she has against HFCS, but based on her amateurish and unscientific review of food ingredients, it’s obvious that she thinks that HFCS is an “evil chemical” and must not be consumed. If someone named it “extra sweet corn syrup,” it’s quite possible she would have ignored it.
I’m also offended by her referring to herself as the “Food Babe.” When “babe” is used as a self-descriptor by a woman, it negates any other characteristic that woman has. It implies that the important reason to listen to her drivel (and it would still be drivel) is because she’s attractive. “Babe” promulgates a sexist attitude, a perspective that needs to be changed. The “Food Babe” may have something important to say, but arrogantly referring to one’s self as “babe.” That’s offensive on so many levels.
Let’s talk about HFCS and beer. Doesn’t really matter if it’s beer or soda or your favorite chocolate candy, but she went after beer. And like anything written by any pseudoscience pushing blowhard, I’m going to take down her junk science.
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.
Just for background, the claimed link is between HFCS and Diabetes mellitus Type 2 (or Type 2 diabetes, T2DM), a metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood glucose in the context of insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency. In general, someone with T2DM produces low (or maybe even adequate) levels of insulin, but various cells and organs become resistant to insulin, so cells don’t remove or store blood glucose. Although the cause of Type 2 diabetes is not completely understood, it results from a complex interaction between diet, obesity, genetics, age and gender. Some of the causes of T2DM are under a person’s own control, like diet and obesity, but many of the factors aren’t.
Because they are often confused, it’s important to note that T2DM has a completely different cause and pathophysiology than Diabetes mellitus Type 1 (T1DM, and once called juvenile diabetes). Type 1 diabetes results from the inability of the beta cells of the pancreas to produce insulin, mostly as a result of an autoimmune disease. Typically, T1DM begins in children, though there are forms of the disease that begin in 30-40’s that had been confused with the type 2 version in the past, but blood tests can determine if it is Type 1 or Type 2. As far as we currently know, T1DM is neither preventable nor curable, and there is only some conflicting evidence about what actually causes T1DM. Diet, including consumption of sugars, won’t cause T1DM. Furthermore, although there are numerous treatments and lifestyle changes that can change the course of T2DM, and there are several medical treatment regimens, Type 1 is a death sentence without regular daily insulin injections. However, over 90-95% of diabetes is the Type 2 form.
Over the past couple of weeks there have been numerous articles in the blogosphere that state, with a few variations, that high fructose corn syrup is addictive as cocaine. Wow, that’s quite a statement. In fact, one article, High-Fructose Corn Syrup “as Addictive as Cocaine”, doesn’t even make any caveats to that statement. They simply conclude that, “similar to cocaine addiction, the researchers say that some people are more vulnerable to food addiction than others, which explains why some are obese and some are not.” Setting aside the fact that food addiction is an eating disorder with a psychological basis, and more often than not includes foods that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), let’s look at the study that seems to have caused this myth that it is as “addictive as cocaine.”
Before we examine the article that is the basis of these claims, let’s find out a bit more about HFCS. But first, we need a little sugar biochemistry just to give the reader some background. There are two broad types of sugars, aldose and ketose, along with over twenty individual, naturally-found sugars, called monosaccharides. Of all of those sugars, only four play any significant role in human nutrition: glucose, fructose, galactose, and ribose (which has a very minor nutritional role, though a major one as the backbone of DNA and RNA). Got that? Four sugars. Whatever you eat, however you consume it, you can only absorb 4 sugars. Continue reading “High fructose corn syrup is addictive-myth vs science”