Ann Fernholm, Debate

The sugar industry stopped research showing that sugar can cause cardiovascular disease

Just like the tobacco industry, the sugar industry has influenced the research around it. In 1971, they halted a study that showed how sugar negatively affects intestinal flora and upsets blood-fat levels in lab rats. For half a century, the sugar industry has managed to prevent this important knowledge from being publicized.

In 1965, researchers at Harvard were paid by the Sugar Research Foundation, an American organization sponsored by the sugar industry, to write an article claiming that sugar is harmless for the heart. This cover-up was finally revealed just last year by Cristin Kearns, researcher at UCSF in San Francisco..

Now, Cristin Kearns has been digging deeper into the archives, and has discovered that the Sugar Research Foundation, in the years of 1967-1971, funded animal-tested research at Birmingham University, in which scientists investigated whether or not sugar affects the risks of developing cardiovascular disease. The study in fact showed that sugar upsets blood-fat levels, and that intestinal flora are involved in the process: Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documents. In addition, sugar-levels were increased by a protein that is associated with bladder cancer.

These negative results caused the sugar industry to hurriedly withdraw their money from the research project.

The sugar industry therefore, has done exactly what the tobacco industry did. They have directly impeded any research that could affect their sales.

It’s making me so upset just thinking about it, and there are things I want to write that I probably shouldn’t, so let’s just move on.

Sugar, intestinal flora and blood fats

The interesting thing, which the unfinished study shows, is the connection between sugar, a compromised intestinal flora, and an unhealthy level of blood-fat. In my book My Sweet HeartI talk about how fat increases in the liver whenever we eat a large amount of the sugar known as fructose (found in white sugar). The build-up of fat in the liver upsets blood-fat levels, and may in the end cause fatty-liver. In one chapter of the book, you can read the following (for those who haven’t read my books, metabolic syndrome is the disrupted metabolism that people with abdominal obesity and type 2 diabetes experience):

Bowel incontinence and bacterial toxicity seems to contribute to a fatty liver.

As you’ve probably read before, people with metabolic syndrome are more likely to have a depleted intestinal flora, with a high number of inflammatory bacteria. This condition is also associated with a bowel incontinence. The bacteria have special molecules, called endotoxins (shorthand for internal toxins), located in a membrane that surrounds the bacteria. The levels of these toxins found in the blood are increased in those suffering from metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Some researchers believe that this is a contributing factor to the fatty-liver condition that I describe in chapter 3. For instance, if mice are fed with fructose, they soon develop bowel-incontinence, more bacterial infections in the blood, and, in the long run, fatty-liver. But if the mice are given antibiotics at the same time, it seems to protect them from fatty liver. Antibiotics can cause unbalance among healthy intestinal flora, but at the same time, it is also true that antibiotics help get rid of unhealthy bacteria. In the case of the mice, the antibiotic counteracted the poison-producing bacteria. The experiment suggests that an upset intestinal flora may accelerate the development of fatty liver and metabolic syndrome.

With that said, it should be known that the research I refer to was published in 2008 and 2009. But the sugar industry knew about the link between sugar, intestinal flora and upset blood fats already, in the early 1970s.

Further animal experiments in May this year showed that fructose causes leaky intestines in mice. In September, researchers also published a new article about fructose, intestinal flora and the risk of fatty liver.

It’s tempting to think that this is all exciting new knowledge, but the truth is that the sugar industry knew about it 50 years ago. For half a century, they’ve managed to prevent this knowledge from spreading, and as a result are complicit in decades of disease and needless suffering. Is there anyone else out there who finds all of this a little depressing?

Science journalist and writer Ann Fernholm runs the blog annfernholm.se. Now and then, she writes here at Food Pharmacy.


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