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The Dangers of Fructose
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By Dana Flavin, MS, MD, PHD

High dietary intake of fructose is problematic because fructose is metabolized differently from glucose. Like fructose, glucose is a simple sugar. Derived from the breakdown of carbohydrates, glucose is a primary source of ready energy. Sucrose (table sugar) comprises one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. Thus, excessive sucrose intake also contributes to the rise in overall daily fructose consumption. Glucose can be metabolized and converted to ATP, which is readily “burned” for energy by the cells’ mitochondria. Alternatively, glucose can be stored in the liver as a carbohydrate for later conversion to energy. Fructose, on the other hand, is more rapidly metabolized in the liver, flooding metabolic pathways and leading to increased triglyceride synthesis and fat storage in the liver. This can cause a rise in serum triglycerides, promoting an atherogenic lipid profile and elevating cardiovascular risk. Increased fat storage in the liver may lead to an increased incidence in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and this is one of several links between HFCS consumption and obesity as well as the metabolic syndrome.

Fructose may have less impact on appetite than glucose, so processed foods rich in fructose can contribute to weight gain, obesity, and its related consequences by failing to manage appetite.20 Additionally, loading of the liver with large amounts of fructose leads to increased uric acid formation, which may contribute to gout in susceptible individuals.

                                                  Health-Damaging Effects of Excess Dietary Fructose

  • Dietary intake of fructose, particularly in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), has dramatically increased in the US in recent decades. Increased HFCS consumption has paralleled increasing rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and other conditions associated with poor lifestyle habits.

  • High-fructose corn syrup is found in sweetened carbonated soft drinks as well as in many packaged foods such as cakes, cookies, jams, jellies, and crackers.

  • Excess fructose intake has been associated with adverse health effects such as metabolic syndrome, elevated triglyceride levels, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, excess uric acid levels (associated with gout), and elevated levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs; linked with aging and complications of diabetes).

  • Minimizing intake of dietary fructose is essential to mitigating its potentially dangerous effects. Sources of dietary fructose include HFCS, fruit juices, honey, and table sugar (sucrose; comprising fructose and glucose).

  • Targeted nutritional strategies can help avert some of the damaging effects of excess fructose intake. Beneficial nutrients include benfotiamine, alpha-lipoic acid, carnosine, pyridoxamine, acetyl-L-carnitine, vitamin C, and fish oil.

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