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ERIC DYESS: Is sugar really as toxic as fat, cholesterol?

For those who watched the episode on “60 Minutes” entitled “Sugar Toxic”, you might be mortified to ever drink another soda or add that carcinogen-laced sugar packet to your latte tomorrow. Maybe you should.

As a physician involved with lipoprotein metabolism (think “cholesterol disorders”) for more than 25 years, my immediate reaction to the idea that it is sugar and not fat that causes heart disease and cancer was just wrong.

It has been clearly shown that a reduction in saturated fats reduces cardiovascular disease and cancer. But the discussion was compelling — eat fructose and you will develop heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The pediatric endocrinologist in the story is no light weight. Indeed he is the real deal — a scientist, a researcher, a teacher, and his research on diet and obesity has been well thought out and well done. Obesity, or perhaps insulin resistance is related to rates of heart attacks, diabetes and cancer. He believes that our shift from reducing the fats in our diet oduring the last 30 years as a strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease has resulted in an increase in our carbohydrate consumption and that directly has resulted in increased rates of these problems.

Is he right?

Well in some sense he is.

There are only three things we get our nutritional needs from — fats, carbs or protein. Reduce one and we shift towards the other two.

But does the ingestion of high corn fructose lead us down the inevitable path to evil?

Not necessarily.

All cells need glucose to live, and there are multiple mechanisms that the body uses to maintain normal glucose levels. Hypoglycemia or low blood glucose can lead to coma and brain death while hyperglycemia can lead to blindness, kidney failure, limb loss and death.

What is needed is balance, and therein lies the rub.

The studies involving healthy young people given a high-sugar diet showed deterioration in their blood lipids in two weeks.


But what if the experiment was designed with the sugar load followed by vigorous exercise ? Would it have been all bad?

I suspect not.

Aerobic exercise, immediately following a meal, reduces glucose levels and more importantly insulin levels. Granted most kids are not swigging a soft drink followed by running a 10K, but if they did, I suspect most of the “badness” would be nullified.

This begs the question that shouldn’t our young people be in PE at school or do something outside when they get home that raises their heart rate or sweat rate instead of texting and slurping Mountain Dew?

But what about adults who already have heart disease or cancer?

That data is sobering and, in fact, jaw dropping.

If you have had a heart attack and eat high fructose foods, it does look like you are killing yourself. The same is true, if not worse, with cancer patients.

We clearly know that insulin receptors, on some cancer cells, serve as a fuel for malignant cells to grow and proliferate. That part of the segment is irrefutable.

I have previously mentioned the drug metformin and that it seems to counteract some of the negative effects of sugar on cancer cells. Bottom line, if I had cancer or had heart disease I would definitely eliminate the sugar in my diet.

Yep, no soft drinks; no Twinkies; no Snickers.

Go with a Mediterranean diet of olive oils, fish, and anything low carb. And take a walk after you eat, not before. It will lower your glucose and more importantly your insulin level. That will reduce some of the evil changes in your body that occur after that sweet death you just ate.

Eric Dyess, MD lives in Fondren and practices medicine as an endocrinologist in Jackson.


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