Too Much Sugar Increases Risk for Heart Disease

Adults who consume high levels of sugar have significantly elevated levels of several risk factors for heart disease, according to a new study by a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis, and in Japan.

The study results suggest that U.S. dietary guidelines for sugar may be lax and should be reconsidered, the researchers say. Their findings were reported online  (July 28) in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, and will appear in the journal’s October print edition.

“While there is evidence that people who consume sugar are more likely to have heart disease or diabetes, it has been controversial as to whether high-sugar diets may actually promote these diseases,” said Kimber Stanhope, the study’s senior author and a research scientist at UC Davis.

“Our new findings demonstrate that several factors associated with an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease were increased in individuals who consumed 25 percent of their calories as fructose or high fructose corn syrup,” Stanhope added.

In this study, the researchers examined 48 adult participants between the ages of 18 and 40 years. For five weeks before the study, subjects were asked to limit daily consumption of sugar-containing beverages to one 8-ounce serving of fruit juice. The participants were then divided into three groups, each group consuming 25 percent of their daily calories as fructose, high fructose corn syrup or glucose.

The researchers found that within two weeks, study participants consuming fructose or high fructose corn syrup exhibited increased bloodstream concentrations of three known risk factors for heart disease: LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and a protein known as apolipoprotein-B, which can lead to plaque buildup in arteries.

These same risk factors for heart disease did not increase in participants who consumed glucose. (In this study, the researchers were looking at the participants consuming glucose as a control group, against which results from the other two groups could be compared.)

Stanhope noted that the American Heart Association recommends that people consume only five percent of their daily calories as added sugar, but the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest an upper limit of 25 percent or less.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Jonny Comments: Don’t think for a moment that this study doesn’t apply to “ordinary” sugar, which the sugar industry is now trying to promote as a “healthier” alternative to high-fructose corn syrup. Don’t buy it. Though this study only investigated fructose and high-fructose corn syrup, I suspect that they would have gotten the same results using sugar, since regular old table sugar is 50 percent fructose, only a drop less than the amount found in high fructose corn syrup (which weighs in at 55% fructose, not a significant difference from table sugar).

I called Dr. Stanhope and asked her what she thought about this.

Here’s what she said: “We expect that the effects of sucrose would be comparable to those of HFCS because its composition (50% glucose/50% fructose) is very similar to the composition of the HFCS.