Study Finds High Fructose Corn Syrup Adversely Impacts Fetal Development

06/18/2013

Fetal development photoThe American obesity epidemic is a monstrosity that seems to gain momentum with each passing year. It motivates researchers from all stripes to find a solution to a problem which threatens to turn a third of the population into diabetics.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar in general have taken the lion share of the blame for our expanding waistlines, but doctors dispute whether HFCS, the highly processed corn derivative, is the main culprit. 

High Fructose Corn Syrup Versus Sugar

Recently, I called on Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine and main author of a new study which looks at the impact of fructose on the developing fetus. His research is finding that the consumption of high levels of fructose, more prevalent in HFCS, promotes the development of obesity in infants. The different chemical make up of table sugar versus HFCS may be to blame. 

Table sugar is a disaccharide, half glucose and half fructose. HFCS is already broken down and Dr. Goran's lab testing of soda made with HFCS found that it was 60 percent fructose and 40 percent glucose. When the balance of fructose shifts, as it does with HFCS, this may lead to differing hormonal development in the womb.

“High levels of fructose promote the greater development of fats,” Dr. Goran said to Discovery Health. “When fetal cells are developing they have the choice of what kind of cell they will become but consumption of high levels of fructose seem to cause the development of more fat cells.”

High Fructose Corn Syrup an Obesogen

In the study, published in the journal Nature, researchers refer to HFCS as an obesogen, an environmental toxin which promotes the development of neonatal or childhood obesity in the body, similar to BPA, another widely studied toxin. Obesogens, like HFCS, may also alter hormonal development. 

“Fructose seems to dampen leptin response,” says Dr. Goran. He explains that fructose alters fetal hormonal development in such a way that the brain’s strong response to filling full is watered down. An issue that may be a contributor to childhood obesity.

Previous research at USC Keck School of Medicine found that in countries that produce HFCS and therefore consume it (the largest of which is the U.S.), incidence of type 2 diabetes was 20 percent higher than in countries that don’t produce and consume HFCS. 

“HFCS appears to pose a serious public health problem on a global scale,” says Dr. Goran. “The study adds to a growing body of scientific literature that indicates HFCS consumption may result in negative health consequences distinct from and more deleterious than natural sugar.”

Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock 

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Read More: Does Taxing Soda Actually Curb Obesity?


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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