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High-Fructose Corn Syrup Linked to Diabetes

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 27, 2012 -- Countries that mix high-fructose corn syrup into processed foods and soft drinks have higher rates of diabetes than countries that don’t use the sweetener, a new study shows.

In a study published in the journal Global Health, researchers compared the average availability of high-fructose corn syrup to rates of diabetes in 43 countries.

About half the countries in the study had little or no high-fructose corn syrup in their food supply. In the other 20 countries, high-fructose corn syrup in foods ranged from about a pound a year per person in Germany to about 55 pounds each year per person in the United States.

The researchers found that countries using high-fructose corn syrup had rates of diabetes that were about 20% higher than countries that didn’t mix the sweetener into foods. Those differences remained even after researchers took into account data for differences in body size, population, and wealth.

But couldn’t that mean that people in countries that used more high-fructose corn syrup were just eating more sugar or more total calories?

The researchers say no: There were no overall differences in total sugars or total calories between countries that did and didn’t use high-fructose corn syrup, suggesting that there’s an independent relationship between high-fructose corn syrup and diabetes.

“It raises a lot of questions about fructose,” says researcher Michael I. Goran, PhD, co-director of the Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Although the study found an association, it doesn’t establish a cause/effect relationship.

The Industry Responds

Not everyone is convinced.

Audrae Erickson is president of the Corn Refiners Association, an industry group that recently petitioned the FDA to change the name corn syrup to corn sugar on ingredient lists.

“Just because an ingredient is available in a nation's diet does not mean it is uniquely the cause of a disease,” she says in a prepared statement.

“There is broad scientific consensus that table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are nutritionally and metabolically equivalent,” Erickson says.

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