Too Much Fructose Takes A Toll on Adolescent Hearts
Greater fructose consumption is associated with cardiometabolic risk markers and visceral adiposity in adolescents. The Journal of Nutrition 142: 251-257, 2012
What is the problem and what is known about it so far?
Americans eat a third more fructose, often in the forms of foods and beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup, than they did 40 years ago, and in that time, rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes have skyrocketed. Diet-related health issues, like heart disease and diabetes, are on the rise in adolescents, who consume the most fructose of any age group. Some studies suggest that fructose may contribute to weight gain and metabolic dysfunction.
Why did the researchers do this particular study?
The researchers wanted to determine whether fructose consumption by adolescents is linked to heart health, diabetes risk, and body fat.
Who was studied?
The researchers included 559 people between 14- and 18-years-old who lived in Georgia.
How was the study done?
The adolescents were subjected to a battery of tests to assess their body fat, physical activity, eating habits, risk for diabetes, and heart health. The researchers used blood tests to measure cholesterol, glucose, insulin, and markers of inflammation. Body fat was detected using sophisticated medical scans. Participants wore accelerometers for a week, which gave the researchers a sense of how much exercise the adolescents were getting. The researchers determined fructose consumption by having the participants recall what they had eaten in the previous 24 hours on 4–7 occasions.
What did the researchers find?
The adolescents who ate the most fructose had higher blood pressure and blood glucose levels than those who ate the least. In addition, diets high in fructose were linked to increases in visceral fat, which surrounds the body’s organs, though overall body weight was not linked to fructose consumption. The authors conclude that the effects of fructose on heart and metabolic health are likely due to the sugar’s specific knack for increasing visceral fat.
What were the limitations of the study?
Because the study used data from a single time point, the researchers can’t be certain that fructose directly affects health. Also, the use of dietary recall is known to be flawed—the adolescents may not have given accurate accounts of their eating habits.
What are the implications of the study?
The research suggests that fructose is bad for health because it increases levels of visceral fat in the body. This study doesn’t prove that fructose is harmful, but it adds to the scientific literature that suggests that this sugar is a potential health concern. More research is needed to firm up the link between fructose and its effect on health, though it may be prudent to limit the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup. This study also supports the connection between visceral fat and poor health outcomes reported in other research.
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