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October 5, 2013

In 2011, the CDC  (Center for Disease Control) conducted a study of obesity in the United states and found that since 1980 the rate of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus sky rocketed over 100% of what the rates were in the 1960’s and 70’s.  What went on since the 1980’s to have such a drastic effect on this rate? In the 1980’s small farmers were drastically losing control of their farm business because of the emergence of big corporate food industries like Monsanto and Sysco.  There used to be small hardware stores in most neighborhoods until Home Depot and Lowes took over.  It’s hard to find a corner hardware store anymore. The same thing happened with the food industry. Small farmers could no longer compete. Well, if you now have a large conglomerate, for profit, public company, the number one priority is developing large enough profit margins to satisfy stock holders and maintaining the financial health of the company.

The tip of the human tongue has receptors that detect sweetness.  This is a very powerful stimulus to the brain that habit formation is quick to develop.  Who doesn’t like sweets?  Prior to the 1980’s most of our drinks and foods that called for sweetness used cane sugar. In fact, many other foods that we normally don’t associate with sweetness will have a small amount of sugar to create a habit for that particular brand. Caffeine is a good analogy here because neurologists certainly are aware of the habituation we humans have toward the drug and hence food and drink manufacturers added this to their products (i.e. soft drinks) so that we would be sure to come back and get that product again. Sugar cane does not grow well in the USA; most of its production comes from Central American countries like Trinidad, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  This is one reason why these countries were so valuable to the French and other European countries because this “new spice” was even better than those found in the East Indies and China.

So, to use sugar in your foods as a major company you had to import the stuff and that cost money.  It’s logical that a major company, in order to increase the profit margin, would adopt a policy of “spending low and selling high.”  In the 1980’s chemical scientists working for the food industries began working on a new sweetener.  After much experimentation, they found the answer. Take corn which grows readily in the USA and extract its starch.  Dry the starch and what you have now is corn starch. Corn starch contains two sweeteners called fructose and glucose.  You simply had to add an enzyme chemical to the corn starch and you get these two products. Glucose didn’t pass the test for a sweetener because it simply was not sweet enough. Fructose was somewhat sweet (it’s the stuff that makes fruits sweet) but not as good as cane sugar.

So what the researchers did was to concentrate the fructose making it taste like cane sugar.  Now you have what we call high fructose corn syrup (also called modified corn syrup, modified corn starch, corn syrup solids).  It passed the taste test!!  Since then food manufacturers have been using high fructose corn syrup in everything!  Check the ingredient labels of your food in the pantry and as you go grocery shopping and you will be surprised as to how many products contain high fructose corn syrup.

Now here is where gets is “kinda” technical.  When we consume cane sugar (also called sucrose) it has to be broken down in the intestines.  This takes time and SLOWLY the products of cane sugar enter the blood stream.  The pancreas is the organ that takes the sugar in the blood (glucose) and acts like a security clearance agent that allows the glucose to enter every cell of the body for energy.  The more glucose, the more the pancreas has to work; the less glucose the less the pancreas has to work.  Fructose does not have to be digested and it RAPIDLY goes into the blood stream right after consumption. Well, this is OK to some degree (such as eating fruits) but if we have highly concentrated fructose rapidly enter the blood stream it overworks the pancreas.  When the pancreas is overworked the level of insulin produced by the pancreas is high and this is a signal to the brain to increase fat stores and do everything possible to increase body fat.  Since the pancreas is overworked, it will eventually become exhausted and fail at its function. This is when diabetes steps in.  The more we consume concentrated fructose the worse things become.  Down the road, heart disease, kidney disease and certain forms of cancer develop.

It’s cheap for the food industry but it is a slow poison to us consumers. This is the reason we are seeing not only high frequencies of obesity in children but also the emergence of type II diabetes. Pediatricians never thought they would be treating adult type diabetes in 12 or 13 year olds. We never though some of our patients would become so obese that the scales to weigh them were inadequate.  We never thought that our blood pressure cuffs couldn’t fit around their arms because of such obesity.  The life expectancy of those with extreme obesity certainly will be cut short. I will never forget a 15 year adolescent who was over 400 pounds and died that year from sleep apnea and heart failure because of his weight.

Sooooo,  What are we to do?  For all of us, get out and do something physical!  The body will pay you back for it. The next thing is to try reducing your consumption of high fructose corn syrup.  Do your grocery store research; look at the ingredients.  If it has high fructose sweeteners,  PUT IT BACK!  Although more expensive, there are usually substitutes that taste just as good if not better.  The body takes its time adjusting to new lifestyles; so be patient. After 4 to 6 weeks you will notice and see changes that will make you smile; not simply because of the way you look but more importantly, how you FEEL.

….till next time,

Dr. “D”

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