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High Fructose Corn Syrup and Your Liver

As many as 30 percent of adult Americans have Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) also called Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), possibly as a result of consuming too many foods and beverages containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Whatever you call it, this disorder can cause scarring and hardening of the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. Because of rising rates of obesity, NAFLD has become increasingly common. The newly-identified link to HFCS comes from a study at Duke University Medical Center. Researchers looked at dietary questionnaires completed by 427 adults with NAFLD. Only 19 percent of these patients reported no consumption of fructose containing beverages; 52 percent consumed between one and six drinks per week; and 29 percent consumed beverages that contained HFCS daily. There's no treatment for NAFLD - all you can do is lose weight and lower your triglycerides if they're elevated. The Duke study's findings may suggest another strategy - "healthier diets that are more holistic," said study leader Manal Abdelmalek, M.D., MPH - and less HFCS.

My take? High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is definitely bad for you. I believe that it is a major driver of the obesity epidemic, and there's an environmental impact to consider. Journalist and agriculture industry critic Michael Pollen notes that growing all the corn needed for HFCS depletes soil nutrients, which increases the need for pesticides and fertilizer. Giving up products containing HFCS will benefit your health, help control your weight, and if enough people get the message, protect the planet as well.

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Reader Comments (7)

well said. agree 100%

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjay

I think we are just hitting the tip of the "iceberg" that is HFCS. I am glad to see research like this coming out. The ball is rolling against it and gaining momentum, thankfully! Thanks for sharing this article.
Dr. Ed

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Ed

Duke University incorrectly singled out high fructose corn syrup as being responsible for scarring in the liver and other liver diseases, when the underlying study reviewed dietary intake of fructose containing beverages – not high fructose corn syrup.

Fructose has not been proven to be a cause of NAFLD in humans, and NAFLD subjects are compromised individuals with significant health problems which have very little to do with fructose intake.

This study unnecessarily confuses consumers about the impact of dietary fructose, let alone high fructose corn syrup. Fructose, or “fruit sugar,” is safe and is commonly found in fruits, vegetables, fruit juices, table sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, and maple syrup.

Audrae Erickson, Corn Refiners Association

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAudrae Erickson

As I understand it (I'm a 4th year medical student), the metabolism of HFCP may contribute to its potential harmfulness. The process by which glucose (and all sugars) is well understood. This chemical pathway has many regulatory mechanisms (e.g., if your body is in a "high energy state" say after dinner, the metabolic pathway diverts sugar metabolism away from maximal energy production toward storage forms). HFCP circumvents a MAJOR early regulatory step.

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMilan

Thank you for addressing this issue, Dr. Weil. I know the corn producers will continue to promote HFCS for obvious reasons, but we really need to feed ourselves and our children foods that promote health rather than compromise it. With so many delicious whole foods to choose from, there is no reason to take the risk that accompanies a diet consisting of highly processed foods--including those with HFCS.

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzyStaywell

Somehow I'm not surprised that someone from the Corn Refiners Association would have the chutzpah to call DUKE UNIVERSITY "incorrect" in its findings. Guess which one I'm more likely to believe?

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIrene King

Ms. Erickson,

I was able to view your bio and it does not mention that you have a degree in Biology, Medicine nor Biochemistry ( MA and BA in Economics ) Fructose, whether it is found in nature or human processed is not completely safe for everyone. Not all humans can safely consume Fructose or derivatives without consequences, some severe and potentially fatal, these individuals do not all have serious health conditions. Fact is HFCS has invaded our food supply to the point where you can hardly find a food label that does not have it listed as an ingredient ( try finding foods to eat when you are restricted ). My suggestion is to let the experts in Health, Duke being one of them, be the experts to guide us to healthy living and let the Economic experts try to straighten out the Economics of the country.

June 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
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