Why did I find his words stunning? Well, it is the first time I have heard a mainstream health expert calling plain ol white sugar a toxin. Of course, he isn't the first. Last year, I watched Dr. Robert H. Lustig's lecture on YouTube, which is titled "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM ). Last time I checked, the lecture had been viewed over 2 million times.
Lustig is an UCSF endocrinologist who gained his insights on sugar's role in disease by working with children who were obese and sick with diabetes. While he admitted to worrying that his theory may be perceived as crazy even by fellow doctors, he firmly believes sugar is a toxin. Furthermore, Lustig tells Gupta that 75% of chronic diseases are preventable! Anyway, much of the 60 Minutes feature has Gupta explain how Lustig's anti-sugar campaign has gone from the margins of medical thought toward mainstream thinking because of newer research.
You can watch the 60 Minutes feature on sugar right here. Just click on the Play button below. If you'd rather open another browswer, please follow this link: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7403942n&tag=contentMain;cbsCarousel. And click on "Read More" if you want to see why new research suggests that too much sugar is indeed toxic to our bodies.
Gupta then interviews Dr. Kimber Stanhope (start at 4:30 into the video), a nutritional biologist at UC-Davis in the middle of a 5-year study looking at the effects of consuming HFCS. Her conclusion is that eating too much sugar increases your risk of heart disease. Also, she doesn't believe the mantra that a calorie is a calorie, believing a calorie from sugar is bad.
Dr. Stanhope's controlled experiments showed that subjects who consumer a high level of table sugar (in special red punch drinks) had higher levels of LDL and other risk factors of heart disease. This is an interesting finding because while sugar has been strongly associated with diabetes, it hasn't been viewed as being associated to heart disease. And yet, Dr. Stanhope's research shows it likely is. And why does eating lots of sugar increase one's risk of heart disease? Well, her hypothesis is that the liver becomes overwhelmed by fructose, which converts some sugar into fat. When the liver has too much fat, it releases fat into the blood stream.
She and other experts believe that the reason for both the rise in heart disease and in diabetes among Americans is due to higher consumption of sugar. Why is there more sugar in the American diet? As Dr. Lustig tells it, Americans decreased their consumption of dietary fat (following government recommendations). Food without fat tastes like cardboard he said, so companies began adding sugar to make the food taste good again. And at the same time this change to our food was happening, the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and death from these diseases had gone
Gupta then interviews Dr. Lewis Cantley at Harvard, a systems biologist who believes that if you eat less sugar, you decrease your risk of developing cancer (start watching the video at 7:38). He hypothesizes that insulin, the main hormone that regulates what happens to glucose (the primary sugar used by tissues of our body), affects many bodily tissues in a bad way. 1/3rd of cancers have insulin receptions on the surface, and when insulin binds to them it tells the tumor cells to start consuming glucose, which fuels their growth. Cantley's team is looking into how to stop cancer cells from ingesting glucose, but until then his advice is stop eating sugar.
Gupta then interviews a neuroscience researcher named Dr. Eric Stice at Oregon Research Institute (start the video at 9:50), who shows how consuming sugar has the same effect on the brain's dopamine center as drugs like alcohol do. What's scary from Stice's research is that people will develop tolerance to sugar, so eating a little sugar doesn't do it for many people who thus need more and more to feel the same pleasure.
Finally in a web-only segment, Gupta interviews Dr. John McGahan, a radiologist who has shown that the fat around your solid organs inside the body (called visceral fat and appears as "belly fat", in contrast to subcutaneous fat) increases with consumption of sugar: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7403960n&tag=segementExtraScroller;housing.
In the end, Dr. Lustig believes sugar is a toxin. All researchers in this 60 Minutes feature believe sugar is to be avoided because it promotes all major chronic diseases. Dr. Lustig acknowledges that people won't entirely eliminate sugar, but he feels that similar to alcohol and tobacco -- which are not eliminated despite being bad for our health -- we as a society should allow the government to do things to limit our consumption and exposure to sugar because otherwise, we have a growing public health problem. All in all, an eye-opening news story by one of America's most famous health experts showing that a food that most of us consider an essential if not common part of our diet is in fact quite dangerous in large amounts.