Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the U of C in San Francisco, believes that sugar in the American diet, much of it hidden in processed foods, is killing us. CBS 60 Minutes recently aired new scientific research by Dr. Sanjay Gupta that links high blood sugar to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, supporting his theory that sugar is toxic. View the segment on 60 Minutes:
Americans now consume nearly 130 pounds of added sugars per person, per year. Those include both sugar and high fructose corn syrup. While many people criticize high fructose corn syrup as worse than sugar, Dr. Lustig says metabolically there’s no difference. “They are basically equivalent. The problem is they’re both bad. They’re both equally toxic,” he says. Dr. Lustig says that even so-called “natural” sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar are equally harmful.
Dr. Lustig treats sick, obese children, who he believes are primarily sick because of the amount of sugar they ingest. He says sugar not only leads to obesity, but to “Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.” Something needs to be done says Dr. Lustig. “Obesity has become a “perfect storm” public health crisis world wide. You have to do big things and you have to do them across the total population to make a difference”, he tells Gupta. “Tobacco and alcohol are perfect examples,” he says, referring to the restrictions and warnings imposed on them. “I think sugar belongs in this exact same wastebasket.”
Added Sugars Linked to High Cholesterol and Heart Disease
A recent study supports the idea that excess consumption of high fructose corn syrup is linked to an increase in risk factors for heart disease by increasing a type of cholesterol that can clog arteries. The University of California, Davis, study also indicated that calories from added sugars are different than those from other foods. Subjects had 25 percent of their caloric intake replaced with sweetened drinks. Nutritional biologist Kimber Stanhope was surprised to see that after only two weeks, “We found that the subjects who consumed high fructose corn syrup had increased levels of LDL cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” she tells Gupta. “I started eating and drinking a whole lot less sugar.”
Fructose in Diet Converts to Fat and Arterial Plaque
What happens says Stanhope, is the liver gets overloaded with fructose and converts come of it into fat, which gets into the bloodstream to create “small dense LDL,” the kind of LDL that forms plaque in arteries. The irony here is that for precisely that reason – avoiding heart disease – a government commission in the 1970s mandated that we lower our fat consumption. “When you take the fat out of food, it tastes like cardboard,” says Dr. Lustig. “And the food industry knew that, so they replaced it with sugar…and guess what? Heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and death are skyrocketing,” he tells Gupta.
Sugar Stimulates Cancer Growth
And other scientific work shows that sugar could also be helping some cancer tumors to grow because sugar stimulates the production of the hormone insulin. Nearly a third of common cancers such as some breast and colon cancers, contain insulin receptors that eventually signal the tumor to consume glucose. Lewis Cantley, a Harvard professor and head of the Beth Israel Deaconess Cancer Center, says some of those cancers have learned to adapt to an insulin-rich environment. “They have evolved the ability to hijack that flow of glucose that’s going by in the bloodstream into the tumor itself.”
View Dr. Lustig’s 7-part Series: The Skinny on Obesity
In this 7-part series from UCTV Prime, Dr. Lustig and two of his UCSF colleagues tease out the science behind this alarming claim and the dire threat it poses to global public health.
View Dr. Lustig’s video: The Bitter Truth
Is sugar a toxin that’s fueling the global obesity epidemic? That’s the argument UCSF’s Dr. Robert Lustig makes in “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” a 2009 UCTV video that’s since gone viral and sparked a national dialogue. He explains how all sugars destabilize metabolism, with over 2.7 million views.