Researcher Blocks the Harmful Effects of a High-Fructose Diet

Over the last few decades, the Western diet has evolved considerably. One critical change has been the increased use of sweeteners like fructose and sucrose in processed foods. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has become the most widely used sweetener in the U.S. , and is found in soft drinks, fruit juices, cereals, baked goods, and other processed foods. Statistics reveal a surge in consumption of foods and drinks laden with added sugars, especially HFCS, which has been associated with the growing obesity and diabetes epidemic.

Research has shown that consumption of fructose poses detrimental effects to health, including rapid fat accumulation in the liver and in other important organs. Lead investigator Yuri Sautin, PhD, from the University of Florida, has recently shed light on the way fructose is broken down, or metabolized, by the body. By elucidating these pathways he had discovered a way to potentially block its harmful effects.

Metabolism of fructose differs from the way other dietary sugars are metabolized – it is initially digested by an enzyme called ketohexokinase (KHK) and is quickly absorbed by the liver from the intestine. Dr. Sautin found that elevated levels of fructose also activated genes responsible for stimulating fat production and accumulation inside the liver, which can eventually lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance in the liver, and the progression of type 2 diabetes over time.

When he fed healthy mice a high-fructose diet over 12 weeks, they gained significant amounts of visceral fat and became insulin resistant. But when the researcher removed the KHK enzyme from mice using genetic engineering, fructose metabolism was redirected through alternate pathways that did not cause insulin resistance. These mice consumed the same high fructose diet but remained lean with normal insulin sensitivity and healthy distribution of fat in their tissues.

“This study demonstrates that blocking KHK and redirecting fructose metabolism to alternative pathways is an effective way to prevent visceral obesity and insulin resistance induced by high fructose, a widespread component of Western diets,” said Dr. Sautin.

 “Our studies will likely be useful for developing new therapeutic approaches for the prevention and treatment of obesity and metabolic syndrome.”

Dr. Sautin presented his research findings on June 23, 2013 at the 73rd American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in Chicago, IL.