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July 2020 (Vol. 5 Issue 5)

Sweetener could trigger diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Sweetener could trigger diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s image

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—the sweetener in many fruit drinks and desserts—could be the trigger for a range of chronic diseases, from diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and ADHD (attention-deficit, hyperactivity disorder), scientists believe.

HFCS changes hundreds of genes in the brain that control metabolism, cell communication and inflammation, and these mutations can cause many chronic conditions. The genetic changes could also cause brain-related problems such as depression, Parkinson’s and bipolar disease, say scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

The good news is that they have found an antidote to the damage caused by HFCS: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid, reverses the mutations and makes the brain cells healthy again. “DHA changes not just one or two genes; it seems to push the entire gene pattern back to normal, which is remarkable”, said Xia Xang, assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology, who was one of the researchers.

DHA is found in wild salmon, other fish and fish oils, walnuts, flaxseeds, and fruits and vegetables—but Americans consume far more HFCS: it’s reckoned the average American gets through 27 pounds of the sweetener every year.

The UCLA scientists have discovered that HFCS alters just two genes in the brain, but they are pivotal ones that have a cascade effect, eventually affecting more than 200 other genes.

The mutations happen rapidly and possibly after drinking HFCS-sweetened drinks for just six weeks, although the changes have been seen only in laboratory rats thus far.

The UCLA findings echo those from earlier studies that had discovered that HFCS damages communication between cells in the brain, and that drinking the sweetener for a long time reduces the brain’s ability to learn and remember.

HFCS is a liquid sweetener made from corn starch. It’s used to sweeten drinks, syrups and desserts.


(Source: EbioMedicine, 2016; doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.04.008)

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