Why Are We a Nation of the Obese & Unwell?

Ingredients Label for SimilacEveryone  despairs  about  spiraling obesity, heart disease, and diabetes rates in America. We point to sloth, gluttony,  and  an  inability  to  follow nutrition advice. But before we judge too harshly, let us take a fresh look at body chemistry. How do our bodies respond to what we eat?

High  fructose  corn  syrup (HFCS)  has  received  a  terrible  rap over the last few years. It has been blamed  for  everything  from  high blood  pressure,  to  doubled  triglyceride levels, obesity, diabetes, and to overeating since it fails to stimulate the  hormone (leptin)  that  encourages  fat  burning  and  signals  the brain to reduce hunger. Experts also inform  us  there  is  no  receptor  for fructose on the beta cells that produce insulin, so HFCS does not trigger insulin release. Insulin’s job is to escort sugar out of the bloodstream before it can cause massive damage. Last, it is said that fructose, for all of its  calories,  does  not  suppress  the hunger  hormone,  ghrelin.  Without that brain signal for satiety, we continue to eat.

The  corn  industry  furiously refutes these allegations. In 2008, it launched  an  advertising  campaign vigorously  equating  HFCS  to  sucrose, or table sugar.

And  guess  what.  They  are right!  HFCS  is  no  worse  than  sucrose (if you lay aside for a moment the issue of genetically engineered crops and possible contamination of HFCS with mercury)!  It’s also no  better.  Our  bodies process sucrose and HFCS the same way  because  their  chemical  structures  are  nearly  identical.  They  are both roughly half fructose and half glucose.  (Sucrose  is  50/50;  HFCS  is 42-55 percent fructose.)

Glucose Versus Fructose

Bread, juice & scotchGlucose in moderation is not a problem. It is what our bodies were designed to run on. The  body in normal metabolism can use eighty percent of glucose. Fructose is the common denominator that makes table sugar and HFCS equally toxic – guilty of all the above and more.

Context and dosage matter. Neither pure fructose nor sugar was ever meant to be dissociated from the fiber and nutrients with which  they naturally occur. The high fiber content of fruits and sugarcane for instance discourages excessive consumption, slows down the entrance of fructose into the bloodstream, and help moderate  negative  metabolic effects. Also, the nutrients and enzymes in foods that contain fructose help metabolize it. A whole  food,  including its fiber, is a perfect packet of nutrition.

Dr. Lustig, a pediatric metabolic specialist from the University of Southern California says that fructose, whether from sucrose or HFCS, is metabolized  exactly like ethanol with but one exception – where each is metabolized. Your brain metabolizes your favorite whisky so you fully experience its alcohol toxicity. It is your liver that must process nearly three-fourths of your favorite fruit juice, soda, or other  fructose-loaded  beverage  – into ethanol – so you never feel the damage. Dr. Lustig goes on to say that nevertheless, fructose causes eight  out  of  the  twelve  problems excessive alcohol consumption  is known for: liver dysfunction, heart problems, high blood pressure, improper fat metabolism, inflammation of the pancreas, obesity, fetal alcohol  syndrome,  and  addiction.

He points out that:

    • Uric acid, from fructose metabolism increases blood pressure – and contributes to gout.
    • Thirty percent of fructose ends up as fat, not glucose. He points to a study of medical students who ingested high amounts of fructose for six days. In that six-day  period,  their  triglyceride levels doubled. Fat-making increased by more than five times, and the number of free fatty acids in the blood (FFAs) also doubled, causing a doubling of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is an early warning sign of diabetes development.
    • Some of the fat does not make it out of the liver, so it contributes to a fatty liver –  a kind of hepatitis.
    • Fructose  keeps  your  brain  from sensing leptin (leptin resistance), so  you  overeat  and  likely,  make more fat. If you read Mouth Matters,  you  know  leptin  works through  the  brain’s  hypothalamus,  therefore  it  also  influences other  functions  as  well. Some of  these  are  the  stress  response through the adrenal glands, bone growth,  thyroid  function,  the sympathetic nervous system, and reproductive behavior.
    • Fructose metabolism contributes to  insulin  resistance  in  the  liver. In this case, the pancreas has to work harder to pump out more insulin. High insulin leads to higher blood pressure. High insulin also leads  leptin  resistance,  further fat making, and other metabolic problems.
    • Fructose is seven times more like to  cause  the  arterial  glycation products called AGEs that are discussed in Mouth Matters.
    • The sugars that make it into the liver  must  be  phosphorylated, therefore  the  body can  quickly become depleted of phosphate.
    • Cellular  energy  generation  from sugar metabolism is called ATP. As ATP breaks down, it degrades into the waste product, uric acid. Uric acid causes gout. It also contributes  to  high  blood  pressure  because it blocks nitric oxide (NO) in the  blood  vessels.  NO  decreases blood pressure.

Perhaps  more  critical  than all  the  above:  after  all  the  metabolic passes  fructose  makes  through  the body, roughly 60 percent exit as LDLs, the reason so many doctors pass out statin  prescriptions,  such  as  Lipitor and  Crestor.  And  these  are  not  just any LDLs. LDLs can be broken down into two groups – the large “floaters” that are too big and buoyant to pass through  the  lining  of  blood  vessel walls to cause the damage of atherosclerosis,  and  the  VLDLs.  These  very low  density  LDLs  are  the  ones  that can burrow into your circulatory system.  Because  currently  LDL  tests  do not  differentiate  what  ratio  of  LDLs to  VLDLs  you  have,  Dr.  Lustig  contends  a  more  accurate  assessment of where you stand for heart disease risk is the triglyceride to HDL ratio. If your  triglycerides  are  low  and  HDLs high, you have a high fraction of large, buoyant LDLs. High triglycerides and low  HDLs  signal  a  problem.  Dietary fat raises large, buoyant LDLs; sugars raise VLDLs!

Glucose  metabolism  does not move you to type II diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Fructose metabolism does.


A Closer Look at Sugar Metabolism


Sugar Facts to Ponder

    • Total sugar consumption in the  United States is about 149 pounds per year. Of that, HFCS intake is 79 pounds/year.
    • Anything  ending  in “-ose”  is  a  sugar.  Levulose equals fructose.
    • As  fats  began  to  get  a  bad  reputation  in  the 1980s, processed foods began to omit them. Also removed was fiber. In their stead, added sugars improved taste and provided browning. Fiber intake has plummeted from 100 – 300 grams per day to an average of 12 grams per day.
    • A century ago, typical fructose consumption was 15  grams/day.  Today,  73  grams/day  is  not  uncommon for adolescents that drink soda, energy, or sport drinks.
    • Agave syrup is nearly all fructose.
    • The Seven Countries Study mentioned  in Mouth Matters correlated heart disease with fat intake and, as was said, is the basis for the fat guidelines recommended over the last 30 years in America. Only in Greece and Japan did fat intake not correlate  with cardiovascular  disease.  These  two countries  had  significantly  lower  rates  of  heart disease. Japan had the lowest fat consumption – around 9 percent – but about 37 percent of  the calories in the Greek diet derived from fat. The key was the type of fats they ate. But the other significant  feature  of  the  study  was  contained in one paragraph. The author, Ancel Keys, noted that in the five countries where high fat intake correlated with high rates of heart disease, sugar intake surged in line with fat consumption. Keys noted that the conclusions about fat intake could not be disentangled from the issue of increased sugar intake.
    • Note:  HFCS  and  sucrose  are  each  roughly  half glucose.  Glucose  does  stimulate  leptin  and  decrease the hunger hormone ghrelin, so there is a  slight moderation in hunger when they are ingested in fractionated form.
    • Get rid of all sugared liquids including sports and energy drinks. Drink only water or milk.
    • Eat all carbohydrates with fiber. Fiber is an essential nutrient. (Whole fruit is healthy in moderation. It is juice, isolated from the nutrients contained in a whole food and from the fiber that slows down the sugar absorption, that is problematic. That is, the fiber in fruit is the antidote to its fructose.)
    • Wait 20 minutes for 2nd portions, so the brain has time to get the signal you are full.
    • Buy screen time (texting, computer, or TV) minute-for-minute with physical activity. Exercise is critical because it:
      • Improves skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity
      • Reduces stress. Stress and obesity are related.
    • Exercise burns off energy before sugar can turn into VLDLs.

This post is a synthesis of information from Mouth Matters and a lecture, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” Given by Dr. Robert H. Lustig, neuroendocrinologist and professor of pediatrics at the University of California.


Discover more critical details about sugar and its extensive negative downstream health consequences in my two books:

Mouth Matters: Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body (2014)


Primal Dentistry: Less is MORE (2018)

and on my new website primaldentistry.org.

Limited Availability: apologies in advance for the impossibility of answering/researching all personal e-mail queries or comments posted to various blogs. I will however selectively answer those of a general nature so readers can benefit from other’s questions. Please note: Carol Vander Stoep is a dental hygienist. Just as a dentist may not legally diagnose or offer personalized dental treatment advice via the Internet, neither may she. Carol will not dispense dental/medical advice via email – if you have dental concerns, please schedule a consultation with a dental professional whose philosophy most closely aligns with yours. Mouth Matters and Primal Dentistry books and database as well as this website is an offering to help enlighten you about possible considerations and choices.

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