High fructose corn syrup has already been implicated in obesity and diabetes, but now it seems to be a major contributor to cancer cell proliferation, according to a team of scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). They discovered that cancer cells have quite an appetite for refined fructose. In fact, in the tests they conducted, pancreatic cancer cells gobbled up refined fructose and used its sustenance to divide and proliferate quickly within the body.
Their findings were published in the journal Cancer Research, and one of the authors of the study, Dr. Anthony Heaney of UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, says, “These findings show that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation.”
They say HFCS intake causes cancer cells to reproduce and spread in ways that even plain ol' sugar cannot. Now that’s not to say that cancer cells don’t like glucose. They do. It’s just that fructose directly causes cancer cells to proliferate and to take over faster than glucose does. “Importantly, fructose and glucose metabolism are quite different,” wrote the research team.
“I think this paper has a lot of public health implications,” says Dr. Heaney. “Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of high fructose corn syrup in our diets,” he adds.
Maybe there will be some changes as a result of this study. The market for HFCS declined by 9% in 2008, but HFCS was still used in 55% of all sweetened edibles in 2009, so we still have a long way to go to bring this cancer cell-catalyzing sweetener under control.
It doesn’t look like those in the corn refining biz are all too eager to lose any market share, though. In 2008 and in 2010, respectively, the Corn Refiner’s Association insinuated that consumers who disdained high fructose corn syrup were “self-righteous” and “incoherent” and that differences in the chemistry of HFCS and table sugar was nothing more than “an urban myth.”
So what is their stance now—after the UCLA scientists published their findings in a highly regarded professional journal?
Audrae Erickson, President of the Corn Refiners Association says this: “Fructose is a natural, simple sugar commonly found in a variety of sweeteners, including table sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup, as well as in many fruits, vegetables and juices. This study does not look at the way fructose is actually consumed by humans, as it was conducted in a laboratory, not inside the human body. The study also narrowly compared pure fructose to pure glucose, neither of which is consumed in isolation in the human diet.”
Hmmmm…it will be interesting to see who consumers believe.