Researchers Find High-Fructose Corn Syrup Results in More Weight Gain

Posted on March 23, 2010  Comments (4)

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same. In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides

Photo of Princeton University research team, including (from left) undergraduate Elyse Powell, psychology professor Bart Hoebel, visiting research associate Nicole Avena and graduate student Miriam Bocarsly, by Denise Applewhite

Photo of Princeton University research team, including (from left) undergraduate Elyse Powell, psychology professor Bart Hoebel, visiting research associate Nicole Avena and graduate student Miriam Bocarsly, by Denise Applewhite

The first study showed that male rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction with the standard diet. The concentration of sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as is found in some commercial soft drinks, while the high-fructose corn syrup solution was half as concentrated as most sodas.

The second experiment — the first long-term study of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption on obesity in lab animals — monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels in rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup over a period of six months. Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet. In humans, this would be equivalent to a 200-pound man gaining 96 pounds.

“These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides,” said Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly. “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.” In addition to Hoebel and Bocarsly, the research team included Princeton undergraduate Elyse Powell and visiting research associate Nicole Avena, who was affiliated with Rockefeller University during the study and is now on the faculty at the University of Florida. The Princeton researchers note that they do not know yet why high-fructose corn syrup fed to rats in their study generated more triglycerides, and more body fat that resulted in obesity.

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This creates a fascinating puzzle. The rats in the Princeton study became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

In the 40 years since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese, the CDC reported. High-fructose corn syrup is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year.

“Our findings lend support to the theory that the excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup found in many beverages may be an important factor in the obesity epidemic,” Avena said.

The new research complements previous work led by Hoebel and Avena demonstrating that sucrose can be addictive, having effects on the brain similar to some drugs of abuse.

Full press release

4 Responses to “Researchers Find High-Fructose Corn Syrup Results in More Weight Gain”

  1. Ben Espen
    March 25th, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

    The really strange thing about this study is that rats with access to HFCS 24 hours a day gained just as much weight as rats with 12 hour access to sucrose, whereas rats with only 12 hour access to HFCS gained more weight. This pattern did not show up in the long term experiments, but I suspect the study just lacks power. The sample size was rather paltry.

  2. Anonymous
    April 5th, 2010 @ 10:41 am

    This is no surprise to me at all. That could be the one single thing that Michelle Obama could do to seriously impact the obesity rates in our children. Unfortunately the high-fructose corn syrup people have deep pockets. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Lois
    May 4th, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    I think the problem (based upon my high school chemistry) is that fructose, a monosaccharide (C12 H6 O6) is not as sweet as sucrose, a disaccharide (C12 H22 O 11) therefore we tend to eat more of the fructose sweetened product. Take the taste test: Compare the same amount of fructose (corn syrup) and white or brown sugar.

  4. Dr.Robert Yoho
    May 5th, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

    The number of obese clients walking into my practice led me to my own study into high fructose intake and liposuction correlation. My wife is from Trinidad and as you ca n guess sugar is the main sweetener. Among some medical people there I know there the incidence of weight related problems appears low.Subsequently I have advised some patients post op to avoid fructose when they can. A very large proportion of patients returning for follow ups mention they have stopped fructose and have lost weight (in non surgery areas) feel great and several have mentioned “why is this in everything?” I wish the American public knew more about this.
    Thank you
    Dr.Robert Yoho
    Pasadena Cosmetic Surgery

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