Posts Tagged 'insulin'

Fructose and Semantics – Natural (processed) Born (man-made) Killer (killer)

A current media blitz would have you believe that fructose, specifically high fructose corn syrup (HFCS for short) is not only “healthy in moderation” just like any caloric sweetener but is also chemically the same as table sugar to your body.  Both statements are flat out wrong and misleading.  Sort of like a publicists spin story on a compromising photo of a celebrity that has been splashed across the internet.

First lets get the chemistry out of the way. Your body runs on glucose, a simple sugar.  Fructose is another simple sugar, but here is the shocker, as you can see from the spelling GLUcose and FRUCTose, these two similar simple sugars are not in fact the same thing. Scientists like to name things and whenever new and different things are discovered they get a new name.  So, in fact researchers long ago confirmed that there is a difference between these two molecules and they were given different names. We know when we put glucose into the body certain things happen, a few highlights would be that insulin is released and another hormone called leptin is secreted.  The sugar is then taken into the cells by the insulin and metabolized for energy. Insulin and leptin both signal our brain to stop eating as we have sugar in the blood and therefore any more is excess and thus we are satiated. Many millions of other things happen as well but these two points will help show the case against fructose. When fructose is put into our bodies it is absorbed primarily in the jejunem and processed by the liver never triggering a proportionate insulin release and is readily converted into triglycerides and spurs an increase in LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).  No leptin is released in response to fructose so with little insulin and no leptin your brain does not know you are full and more calories are consumed than needed. Fructose also raises our bodies levels of uric acid, and lactic acid neither is a good thing to have more of in you blood, this has damaging effects on the heart and kidneys and liver.

One very important fact about fructose in relation to insulin is that it has an effect on the target cells insulin receptors.  It causes a down regulation so when we do consume glucose we have to pump out more insulin.  This is called “insulin resistance” and this directly leads to diabetes syndrome X and other health problems. As to the idea that HFCS is natural and just like table sugar, both are a mix of fructose and glucose, however HFCS is a mix of the two simple sugars, table sugar is sucrose a disaccharide made of 1 glucose bound to 1 fructose. This bonding makes them behave very differently in our body as we have seen. This is not to say sugar is a good thing to consume in any quantity just that sugar would be preferred over HFCS due to the reasons above. If you are consuming predominatly whole, raw, live, fresh foods then you will not have to worry about this as HFCS does not exist in nature, though it is considered and labeled “natural.” It is natural in the sense that it does at some point come from corn but it is heavily processed and modified from the corn starch from which it started. Mind you, it is not a simple extraction process to make HFCS.  The heavy processing and stripping of other nutrients both micro and macro have much to do with making this sweetner such a harmful product.

We are now seeing another fructose sweetener in processed foods and drinks called “crystalline fructose”.  This is really just like HFCS only with the dial turned up to ten.  It can be much worse for you and can even be found with traces of heavy metals and other poisons in it like arsenic and lead. We should also mention that almost all the HFCS in our food supply is made from genetically modified corn. GM corn is a big problem as the Bt toxin (pesticide) in the plant promotes an allergenic response and many more people are presenting with corn allergies these days. The big issue is that once someone develops an allergy to GM corn then they are also allergic to natural organic corn, and since some form of corn is in almost every meal Americans eat, this becomes a big problem (hence so many different reactions to foods). A little bit of anything can generally be accepted by the body and handled while maintaining health but USDA stats show that HFCS consumption has skyrocketed.  Between the years 1970 and 2005 the average American increased their HFCS intake by 10,673%, that is not moderation. Many correlations have been made between this rise and the rise in modern diseases of degeneration like heart disease, cancer and of course diabetes.  Many factors coexist to nutritionally harm us and lead us down the path of disease but nobody can argue that the huge amount of sugar and in particular HFCS has had nothing to do with our nations health issues.  Not even a great publicist.

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Tryptophan and the “turkey snooze”

Just so everyone knows, it’s not the tryptophan in turkey that makes us so tired after our Thanksgiving meal.  So, what is it then?

We know that Tryptophan is an amino acid present in many foods. However, in no way does turkey have an unusually high concentration.  In fact, many beans and even beef has more tryptophan than turkey. It is true that tryptophan can help put you to sleep only because it feeds a pathway that creates melatonin (the sleep hormone).  Scientifically the conversion goes like this: 5 HTP converts to serotonin which converts to melatonin and that equals “lights out.” The problem is that amino acids are absorbed at different rates and tryptophan is very, very poorly absorbed.  If there were a race with different amino acids trying to get through one door, tryptophan would be the slow runner who is also wearing lead shoes.  So, in fact, not very much tryptophan at all is absorbed when taken with a meal.

The answer to the snooze after the fabulous dinner lies on the plate in front of us.  That wonderful plate usually contains a mound of carbohydrate-rich foods (that converts to sugar) which lead to a surge in insulin levels.  Our pancreas is not always adept at matching the release of insulin, to our sugar intake, especially when large quantities of sugar are ingested. Many times the insulin surge is much too large; far exceeding the amount our bodies actually need, causing a sharp drop in blood glucose (sometimes referred to as bonking).  This is called “reactive hypoglycemia” and we are all susceptible.   As we start to store all that carbohydrate induced sugar, along with the tryptophan are some other amino acids that also get stored.  This can increase the relative concentration of tryptophan, and even when running slow in lead shoes the tryptophan can still win the race .

So it’s a complex combination of many factors, two of which we discussed here, that create the turkey snooze. Most biochemists would agree that while the tryptophan plays a role, the sugar rollercoaster that the carbohydrates puts us on is the major causative factor.

Now, while we would usually advise that you avoid all those simple sugars and the subsequent “snooze” on that celebratory day, enjoy the food, the fun, and the nap.

Happy Thanksgiving


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