Results presented at the 2013 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting shows that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can cause behavioural reactions similar to those produced by drugs of abuse such as cocaine
These results, presented by addiction expert Francesco Leri, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Guelph, suggest food addiction could explain, at least partly, the current global obesity epidemic partly caused by these ingredients.
The same brain circuits are involved when people crave high fructose corn syrup as when drug addicts think about drugs. There is significant activity in all areas of the brain, especially in the hippocampus when consuming potent sweeteners. That region is related to learning, memory and is also related to a lot of things such as sensory and motor impulse and emotional behavior.
The stimulators also sent messages of satiety to brain circuits in the orbitofrontal cortex and striatum, which have been linked to craving and desire in cocaine addicts.
High-fructose corn syrup, which is a mixture a potent concentrated cocktail of the simple sugars fructose and glucose, came into use in the 1970s and by 2010 the average American was consuming about 80 pounds of it per year. Overall, dietary intake of fructose has increased by an estimated 50 percent in the last thirty years.
It has suffered from a spate of bad publicity in recent years, and food and beverage manufacturers have been increasingly switching it out of their products in preference for beet or cane sugar (sucrose). Once public awareness campaigns regarding HFCS toxicity went viral, the Corn Refiners Association petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking it to allow the term ‘corn sugar’ as an alternative label declaration for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
HFCS causes insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension, increased weight gain, and not to mention is manufactured from genetically modified corn. The CRA felt that changing the name would somehow create “clarity” for consumers.
Increased consumption of HFCS also results in depletion of chromium in the body, which is important is helping glucose pass from the bloodstream into the cells.
According to two recent U.S. studies, almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient.
Consumers in Europe and Canada should also be aware that HFCS is often listed under different names under the auspices of regulatory bodies which define food labeling exemptions. For example, HFCS can be legally labeled as glucose/fructose and high fructose maize syrup in Canada. Although the EU restricts the amount that can be manufactured, it does allow the term isoglucose to be substituted for HFCS in food labels.
Increased availability of such highly-palatable foods could partly explain the high incidence of obesity around the world, but simple availability does not explain why some people are obese and others are not, given the same amount of available food. Dr. Leri, and others, suggest one important factor could be individual differences in vulnerability to addiction. Surveys of consumption of cocaine show that though many individuals try these drugs, only a small percentage of them become addicted. Dr. Leri wanted to know if the same could be true of “addictive foods”. “We have evidence in laboratory animals of a shared vulnerability to develop preferences for sweet foods and for cocaine” says Leri.
Dr. Leri investigated the behavioural, chemical and neurobiological changes induced by consumption of “addictive foods” in the bodies and brains of rats. “We are not rats, but our children do not think too much about the impact of sweets on their brain and behaviour. There is now convincing neurobiological and behavioural evidence indicating that addiction to food is possible. Our primary objective is to discover biological predictors of vulnerability to develop excessive consumption of high fructose corn syrup ,” says Leri.
Dr. Leri’s findings could lead to novel pharmacological interventions for obese individuals that could help them selectively reduce intake of unhealthy foods. This knowledge could also help increase the public’s understanding of the effects of unhealthy food choices. An effective strategy to combat obesity is to educate people about the causes and consequences of their choices.
The most popular foods that have HFCS include yogurts, soft drinks, breads, frozen pizzas, cereal bars, cocktail nuts, boxed cheese pasta, sauces/salad dressings, jams, sweetened canned fruit and processed snacks.
Take a good look at all ingredient labels to get more informed about how HFCS is incorporated into some of your favorite foods. If you overlook ingredients, you could be sacrificing your physical and mental health.
About the Author
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.
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