These findings show that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation. They have major significance for cancer patients given dietary refined fructose consumption, and indicate that efforts to reduce refined fructose intake or inhibit fructose-mediated actions may disrupt cancer growth. I think this paper has a lot of public health implications. Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of high fructose corn syrup in our diets.

Dr Anthony Heaney, UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, via Reuters. The reporter notes that Americans take in large amounts of fructose, mainly in high fructose corn syrup, but the American Beverage Associate has always maintained “sugar,” as in sweetener, is sugar, and held soda-taxes at bay. Dr Heaney and his study has shown otherwise.

Heaney’s work dovetails with earlier findings and general knowledge in the scientific community about the body’s difficulty with processing fructose. According to a 2007 interview with Robert Lustig, professor of pediatric endocrinology, UCSF, “Fructose actually is a hepato-toxin; now fructose is fruit sugar but we were never designed to take in so much fructose. Our consumption of fructose has gone from less than half a pound per year in 1970 to 56 pounds per year in 2003.”

Lustig goes on to mark the coincidence of increased childhood obesity with the introduction of HFCS into soft drinks: “high fructose corn syrup came on the market after it was invented in Japan in 1966, and started finding its way into American foods in 1975. In 1980 the soft drink companies started introducing it into soft drinks and you can actually trace the prevalence of childhood obesity, and the rise, to 1980 when this change was made.”

Lustig: “it’s not the calories that are different it’s the fact that the only organ in your body that can take up fructose is your liver. Glucose, the standard sugar, can be taken up by every organ in the body, only 20% of glucose load ends up at your liver. So let’s take 120 calories of glucose, that’s two slices of white bread as an example, only 24 of those 120 calories will be metabolised by the liver, the rest of it will be metabolised by your muscles, by your brain, by your kidneys, by your heart etc. directly with no interference. Now let’s take 120 calories of orange juice. Same 120 calories but now 60 of those calories are going to be fructose because fructose is half of sucrose and sucrose is what’s in orange juice. So it’s going to be all the fructose, that’s 60 calories, plus 20% of the glucose, so that’s another 12 out of 60 — so in other words 72 out of the 120 calories will hit the liver, three times the substrate as when it was just glucose alone.”

If “we are being poisoned to death,” according to Lustig, Fructose poisoning leads to three symptoms. First, it increases uric acid, which lowers nitric oxide, a natural moderator of blood pressure, which leads to high blood pressure.  Second, it increases fat production, which also generates very low density lipoproteains (VLDLs) – also known as bad cholesterol. Third, it fosters insulin resistance. By fostering an enzyme called Junk one, it effectively shuts down the liver’s insulin receptor through serum phosphorylation. With the liver phosphorylated, insulin levels must rise throughout the body to compensate, which leads to a viscous cycle that resembles alcohol’s effects on the liver: “In fact fructose, because of the way it’s metabolised, is actually damaging your liver the same way alcohol is. In fact it’s the exact same pathway, in fact fructose is alcohol without the buzz.”

So what’s the solution. HFCS is not alone the culprit. It just happens to be a particularly effective delivery mechanism. Sucrose, which includes table sugar to molasses, is typically fructose and half glucose, and sucrose is found throughout the fruits, vegetables and food we eat. The difference is whether it has been refined. When fructose is in fruit, in its unrefined form, for example, it’s bound up with fiber, which means there is less per a serving and you have the benefit of having to separate it from the fiber. This is referred to as the glycemic load. If the glycemic index is the increase in blood sugar resulting from consuming 50 g of carbohydrates in a particular food, the load is the product of the index and the amount of food required to deliver 50 g of carbohydrates to the body. In the case of fruits and vegetables, they may have a high glycemic index, but you would have to eat for days to actually consume 50 g of carbohydrates. Soda, however, has a very low glycemic index, but you only have to have a little bit to get the full 50g. Fruits and vegetables, low load. Soda, high load.

These circumstances and the sophisticated marketing apparatus behind the food processing industry perhaps explain the public’s urge to connect the efforts big food to the more sinister revelations from another industry.