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Sugar more toxic than alcohol, scientists claim

Thursday, February 2, 2012
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We've seen what excessive amounts of alcohol can do to the body, remember Nicolas Cage's performance in Leaving Las Vegas? Cirrhosis of the liver, behavioural changes, and finally complete metabolic shutdown. We know that alcohol in excess is toxic but a group of scientists are claiming that 'added sugar' is more detrimental to our health.

Scientists Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis from the University of California, San Francisco are calling for governments worldwide to regulate foods and drinks with 'added sugar' as strictly as alcohol and tobacco. They are also calling for the sugary foods to be banned in and around schools, placing age limits on purchases as not only is it taxing to the liver, causing fatty liver disease, and ultimately leading to insulin resistance, but claim it to be the underlying causes of obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Lustig and his colleagues are prompting debate as they argue, citing numerous studies and statistics that indicating that sugar has a bigger impact on public health than alcohol and tobacco, as fructose can trigger processes that lead to a chronic disease pandemic including liver toxicity. They concede that a little is not a problem, but a lot kills — slowly.

Related article: Healthier sugar alternatives

No stranger to making provocative statements, in 2009 Dr. Lustig's lecture "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," was posted on YouTube and has been viewed by almost two million people, not bad for a 90-minute discussion on the evils of sugar.

Many health experts are disagreeing with the controversial article published in the journal Nature, such as Dr Alan Barclay, head of research at the Australian Diabetes Foundation. He told Lifehacker that "many of the statements simply do not apply to Australia and on certain issues there is little evidence to support their views. Sugar is not the issue" he said, "it is far more complicated than that."

Professor Peter Clifton, head of nutritional interventions at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute says, "sugar is just another form of over-consumed calories — easily available and very palatable but no more metabolically deadly than starch or fat calories and certainly not equivalent to alcohol". "Alcohol toxicity is not just metabolic — it causes violence and road deaths and sugar in any of its forms cannot compete with this statistic," he said.

However Lustig does highlight that the level of consumption of sugar is many times higher than what nature intended. As our ancestors found sugar in fruit, unprocessed and only available seasonally, and honey is well guarded by bees.

"Over the past 50 years, consumption of sugar has tripled worldwide. Nature made sugar hard to get; man made it easy," the authors stated. The World Health Organisation states that worldwide the obese outnumber the undernourished. Will there be commercials made asking for donations to help prevent obese people dying of related disease?

Related article: Salt or sugar: which is worse?

Dr. Lustig and his colleagues may not be seeing their recommendations introduced by governments anytime soon, but as the paper points out, diet related diseases are costing around 75 percent of the total health-care dollars in the U.S., and that possibly regulation of the amount of sugar food and drink industries can add to their products should be introduced.

The article states, "Ultimately, food producers and distributors must reduce the amount of sugar added to foods. But sugar is cheap, sugar tastes good and sugar sells, so companies have little incentive to change."


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