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January 2, 2013 • Editorials, Health and Fitness

New Yale Study Using MRI Brain Scans Links Fructose to Weight Gain and Obesity

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A new study from Yale University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported at Bloomberg details something that has been gaining more and more scientific support: fructose has a significant link to weight gain and obesity.

I have been compiling links for several months now about all of this stuff, including a report from last year
put out by the UK Guardian that made a bold claim – that we are on average more than 40 pounds heavier than we were three decades ago, and much of it isn’t about eating more or exercising less … but about the growing amount of sugar in everything we eat. This makes a compelling read by itself, particular the history of how we ended up with high fructose corn syrup in everything

But there IS also an impact of eating more or exercising less … take a look at the portion increase info here , here and here, and shown in dramatic fashion in how we describe ‘a portion’ now compared to just 20 years ago:

Portion Size Increase

Also, while the impact of our more sedentary lifestyle might be disputed based on the ‘hunter gatherer argument’, but a study looking at the weight of kids in Fukushima a year after the tsunami and nuclear meltdowns shows that because of being kept indoors nearly all the time the obesity rate has nearly doubled. So it remains a consideration.

But back to the impact of fructose. There was an article asking ‘Why Is It So Hard To Lose Weight’ that addressed the high sugar content in so much of the ‘supermarket diet’ that has shown immediate weight gain and overeating in lab rat studies. Then in September there was a set of reports noted at the Huffington Post.

The new study is intriguing because it points to the brain triggers more clearly than before. The bottom line goes back to something I talked about before – that if something is SUPPOSED to have fat yet is ‘non-fat’, chances are it has been replaced by sugar. And chances are that sugar is largely in the form of high fructose corn syrup – which goes back to the Guardian article at the top and informs the confused scientists of the 80s who looked at the fitness and low-fat crazes of the late-70s and early-80s and wondered why people were gaining rather than losing weight.

And so as we launch into 2013, that ‘Sweet Surprise’ advertising that sought to ‘clear up the myths’ about ‘corn sugar’ but was quickly smacked down in 2011, seems more than just misleading … it is downright deadly based on the obesity epidemic in our country.

7 Responses to " New Yale Study Using MRI Brain Scans Links Fructose to Weight Gain and Obesity "

  1. Perry B says:

    Michael – great article! I knew that sugar was unhealthy, but I did not realize how one could become almost addicted to sugar. Schools tried limiting the amount of sugar that they serve in their lunches and snacks. I wonder if it has made any difference…

  2. Doug Miller says:

    A couple of things about this: on that first graph in the article, we all know that correlation does not imply causation.

    Second, regarding that comment about fructose not being able switch off a cell’s quest to you to eat more glucose: first, that sounds a little screwy to me, or at least a gross simplification of what actually happens. Second, HFCS is actually about half fructose, half glucose, so the body is getting glucose from HFCS. (Sucrose in table sugar, which sweetened the sodas we drank before the 80s, is a disaccharide that is one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose – very, very similar to HFCS.)

    I don’t doubt that too much sugar is bad for you, but some of the sources for this article look like pseudo-science to me.

    • Bryan Eley says:

      I would tend to agree with you, Doug, and believe you me, my wife (essentially a food scientist) have had a lot of discussions about subjects such as this where health and nutrition are concerned.

      I do however think the brain’s response to fructose should come as no surprise as the brain relies on glucose to power the neurons, not fructose, so why the Yale article says their “study found that fructose doesn’t have the ability to operate that off switch” is a mystery to me. I have read of research from UCLA showing that excess fructose consumption may block the ability of insulin to regulate how cellular use and storage of sugar/glucose in the body…this mechanism makes more sense, particularly since the real issue is, as Mike has stated in his post, that a more sedentary lifestyle coupled with increased caloric (e.g., carbohydrates in general) intake logically would lead to increased obesity and the ills associated with such a lifestyle. Americans and others subsisting on a highly processed food diet really need to concentrate on reducing caloric intake and complementing this reduction with healthy exercise.

      By the way, in addition to more physical exercise, people should think more. Yes, think more. Several studies have shown that brains engaged in active thinking tasks such a concentration and problem solving require considerably more glucose, i.e., use more calories. So, by virtue of reading Gear Diary and contemplating Mike’s (and other editors’/contributors’) thought-provoking posts, you are essentially exercising, as opposed to passively watching TV. (Hey, I’m trying to offer some New Year optimism here! 😉 )

      • Doug Miller says:

        Right, I read this article quickly and late last night. I believe that I was confused about the study, which was about fructose (the sugar molecule in fruit and plant based food) and the references in this article to HFCS, which, as I said, is not purely fructose, and is little different to the body compared with table sugar/sucrose that used to sweeten the processed foods we purchased. I confused the references in Michael’s article to HFCS with the study, which was really specifically about fructose, not HFCS. That’s my fault, and I apologize.

        It should also be noted that the brain can also be fueled with some specific ketones, which are broken down from fat stores in the body when we are under severe carbohydrate deprivation. That is not normal, however, though many people these days are deliberated eating in a way to go “ketonic”.

        I suppose that the lesson of the study is really that eating an apple or orange while glucose-deprived will not satisfy the brain’s desire for more glucose. (Though, really – as Michael points out, how many of us these days are starving their brains of glucose?)

    • As someone who has 50% of their job title as ‘statistician’, I am very aware of that – which is why I only used ‘linkage’ in the title rather than anything stronger. As for the graphic … well, most others were much worse 🙂
      The confusion between Fructose and HFCS is based on me pulling together a bunch of articles. Apologies for that!
      As for the chemistry, Sucrose is 50-50 as noted, whereas HFCS is 55-45 Fructose to Glucose … but HFCS is not a disaccharide, and there has been a fair amount of animal research (and apparently only minimal human research) that shows that this might actually be an important distinction (along with all of the corn starch), “Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.”

      The other thing to think about is that while it might be debatable about table sugar vs HFCS, we know that both are bad for you – and refined sugar in general is an inefficient fuel source. The best sources are natural fruits and veggies, as always.
      But when I was a kid, I had relatively simple cereal products with a couple of teaspoons of table sugar and whole milk (which we called ‘milk’). By the time I was in college, the abundance of cheap corn pushed everywhere meant that EVERY cereal had corn in it, which is essentially non-nutritional filler. This required added nutrients and flavoring … which came in the form of HFCS. Suddenly the 3-component cereal from a decade earlier had 20-30 ingredients!
      And that is a huge thing – HFCS is in EVERYTHING, from hot dogs to yogurts to chicken stock! Suddenly rather than having a diet formed around natural components, the majority of people are eating MASSIVE quantities of added HFCS sweeteners and fillers and not even knowing it – most folks get that things like soda and fast food are junk-ridden … but chicken stock, tortilla chips and peanut butter?

  3. “FRUCTOSE” THE NEW POISON! : Dr. Pinna says:

    […] New Yale Study Using MRI Brain Scans Links Fructose to Weight Gain and Obesity […]

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