Obesity and diabetes are two of the leading reasons that people in the United States need long term care, and a recent animal model study suggested that a diet high in dietary fructose may be one of the reasons. An even newer study found that those aren’t the only long term health problems the added sugar causes.

Is It the Fructose?

Rates of obesity and diabetes have increased dramatically over the long term health problemslast 30 years. Though many different factors play into the significant rise, doctors and researchers attribute much of the change to diet and nutrition.

High fat, high calorie diets often take much of the blame for obesity, but a new study from Wake Forest University found that dietary fructose might actually be the main culprit. The findings of these studies and associated opinions and views are still considered controversial within the scientific community.

Kylie Kavanagh, D.V.M., assistant professor of pathology-comparative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist led the study that identified that even with a low fat diet, eating an excess of calories high in fructose causes weight gain. In fact, it causes 50% more weight gain and diabetes at three times the rate, compared to the control group who ate a low fat diet with very little fructose. In a follow-up animal model study, the researchers found that even with calorie restriction and no weight gain, a diet high in fructose resulted in significant liver damage.

Study Details

Two groups of monkeys were fed separate diets for six weeks: one group was fed a diet with 24% fructose and the other was fed a diet with only about .5% fructose. The food intake of each monkey was adjusted weekly to prevent any weight gain, and though they were fed different foods, the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat was the same. The results were alarming: after analyzing the liver biomarkers, scientists found that intestinal bacteria was migrating to the liver much more rapidly in the high fructose group, causing subsequent damage to the organ.

Kavanagh said that what surprised the team the most was “how quickly thelong term health problems liver was affected and how extensive the  damage was, especially without weight gain as a factor. Six weeks in monkeys is roughly equivalent to three months in humans.”

A potential gap in the study is that the researchers only tested for fructose, not dextrose. Dextrose is another common added sweetener, which could have theoretically been the catalyst of the liver damage. The research team already has plans for another study that analyzes the effect of both fructose and dextrose over a longer time period.

Adjusting Your Diet

“We studied fructose because it is the most commonly added sugar in the American diet, but based on our study findings, we can’t say conclusively that fructose caused the liver damage,” Kavanagh said. “What we can say is that high added sugars caused bacteria to exit the intestines, go into the blood stream and damage the liver.

Foods with added sugars often include sodas, sugary drinks, and processed, packaged foods. According to the Mayo Clinic, the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar and no more than 150 calories a day for most men. That is equal to approximately 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women and 9 for men. The reality is, most Americans consume more than triple the recommended amount every day.

Learning how to adjust your diet to benefit your body and your health will help you avoid long term health problems in the future. Read more about which foods boost brain power and can help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s or check out this list of small diet changes to improve your health.