Recently, there’s been a tremendous amount of attention being paid to the obesity epidemic in the United States (US). More than one-third of US adults are obese (36.5%), leading to an enormous estimated annual medical cost of $150 billion per year—and both obesity rates and costs are on the rise (1). Along these lines, there’s research that suggests a potential link between sugar intake and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (2).
As a result, several public health organizations have updated their guidelines to urge Americans to reduce their sugar intake. While the movement is promising and has the potential to lead to significant health improvements, one must ask: How did we get to this point? A new paper suggests research sponsored by the sugar industry dating back to the early 1960’s may be to blame.
Kearns et al. (2017) recently published an article in PLOS Biology suggesting that the sugar industry was aware of the potential negative health effects of sugar as early as 1965, however, neglected to report the findings. For example, in 1965, the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) secretly funded a review published in the New England Journal of Medicine that discounted evidence linking sucrose (i.e., sugar) consumption to coronary heart disease. After more internal files were discovered, Kearns and colleagues also reported that another SRF-funded study was conducted (Project 259), and it provided evidence that the gut microbiota may have a casual role in carbohydrate-induced hypertriglyceridemia. Moreover, this report also found that a high-sugar diet led to an increase in beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that is associated with bladder cancer. Guess what? SRF terminated Project 259 without publishing these critical results!
Unfortunately, the Sugar Association has made it clear that it doesn’t plan on making amends to its previous wrongdoings either. Last year, a study published in the journal Cancer Research (4) demonstrated a link between sugar intake and increased tumor growth and metastasis in mice compared to a sugar-free diet. This project was conducted by experienced researchers with a high degree of internal control and was well received within the medical community.
However, the Sugar Association stated that there is “no credible link between ingested sugars and cancer”. Contrastingly, Kearns et al. (2017) report that evidence now exists that the Sugar Association terminated funding of an animal study that may have demonstrated a link between dietary sucrose and cancer risk.
In conclusion, while it is disheartening that these events occurred, these recent findings provide a burst of hope that there are indeed ethical researchers working around the clock to change the paradigm and find ways to improve the overall health of our country. There is now a tremendous amount of evidence that suggest that increasing vegetable intake, fiber consumption, and an overall reduction carbohydrate intake may offer a variety of health benefits for multiple populations (5,6,). To improve the health of yourself and your family, it is recommended to consume an adequate number of calories from nutrient-dense foods low in glycemic load. Fat is not the enemy it was once portrayed to be, and high-fat diets (such as the ketogenic diet) are showing promising results as well. Lastly, regular exercise (including both cardiovascular and resistance training) and adequate physical activity are perhaps the most powerful tools to improve health.
- Yang, Q., Zhang, Z., Gregg, E. W., Flanders, W. D., Merritt, R., & Hu, F. B. (2014). Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA internal medicine, 174(4), 516-524.
- Kearns, C. E., Apollonio, D., & Glantz, S. A. (2017). Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documents. PLoS biology, 15(11), e2003460.
- Jiang, Y., Pan, Y., Rhea, P. R., Tan, L., Gagea, M., Cohen, L., … & Yang, P. (2016). A sucrose-enriched diet promotes tumorigenesis in mammary gland in part through the 12-lipoxygenase pathway. Cancer research, 76(1), 24-29.
- Anderson, J. W., Baird, P., Davis, R. H., Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., … & Williams, C. L. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), 188-205.
- Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(8), 789-796.