Too High on High Fructose Corn Syrup?

By Andrea Ramey - January 25, 2019
Fructose, Glucose, Galactose Molecules

By Andrea K. Ramey, MD


Based on the number of food products that contain high fructose corn syrup, it is safe to assume that many people consume more high fructose corn syrup than is required by the body. This excess intake of sugar disrupts homeostasis, the natural balance of the body. Excess sugar has been linked to diabetes, hypertension, recurrent infection, and chronic inflammation. Moreover, many detrimental effects from high fructose corn syrup could be passed down through generations via daily physical contact. Considering the amount of money spent on diseases associated with high fructose corn syrup consumption, it is safe to assume that removing this one ingredient from food could affect the revenue of healthcare, domestically and globally.

This particular train of thought began for the author in 2016, while performing a set of routine experiments in a microbiology lecture and lab class presented to nursing students. Initially, in an effort to fortify nutrient agar, the author added a small amount of high fructose corn syrup to promote bacterial growth. As anticipated, the cultures grew the desired microbes. Unexpectedly, over a short period of time, each culture grew some form of fungi that eventually dominated the microbial colonies. Later, while presenting lectures in Nutrition, Health, and Wellness, the author discovered a series of documentaries explaining the influences the human body’s microbiota have on the food choices made by individuals.

The information presented in this paper is based on academic experiments and an effort to understand the many diseases that seem to affect entire families—parents, grandparents, and children, with children the potential victims of their environment. The author researched diseases associated with high fructose corn syrup, the influences of the body’s natural flora on dietary choices across generations, and from a business perspective, the potential amount of money required to manage conditions associated with high fructose corn syrup. These postulates preceded the author’s belief that individuals consuming a moderate amount of high fructose corn syrup will eventually harbor and spread microbes that prefer this particular compound, altering the body’s normal flora. Over time these changes could lead to an overgrowth of fungi along with other high fructose corn syrup-craving microbiota. If the author’s hypothesis is correct, eliminating this one ingredient from the diet would improve the health of a large population of people.

This paper intends to address the following concerns associated with high fructose corn syrup:

  • High fructose corn syrup, in moderate amounts, can cause a tremendous amount of harm to the body.
  • Through daily contact, the detrimental effects of high fructose corn syrup could be passed down through generations.
  • Removing high fructose corn syrup from food would affect the healthcare system’s earnings, even if only by a marginal amount.

Historical Perspective and Health Implications of High Fructose Corn Syrup

Over the past thirty years there has been an increase in the use of high fructose corn syrup. Beginning in the early 1970s, high fructose corn syrup was introduced into foods as a common ingredient. High fructose corn syrup is now found in a variety of foods ranging from ice cream, juice, and candy to tartar sauce, peanut butter, and ketchup, among many others. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in adults and children began increasing dramatically in the early to mid-1980s because of the intake of unhealthy foods, along with other factors such as stress and technology. In 1965, the Japanese Agency of Industrial Science first discovered the enzyme glucose isomerase. Enzymes are biochemical structures that alter reactions. In the production of high fructose corn syrup, the glucose isomerase is combined with corn starch and water, converting approximately 50% of glucose molecules into fructose, creating a sweeter syrup. In the early 1970s the Clinton Corn Processing Company began selling high fructose corn syrup for consumption in foods as a sweeter alternative to sugar and glucose syrup. The introduction of high fructose corn syrup into foods has been linked to a variety of diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, which are caused by the excess triglycerides that are created with the storage of fructose in the body.

Understanding the effects of our diets on our bodies is vital to breaking the unhealthy patterns created by misconceptions. Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. There are various types of sugars that are used by the body in different reactions, but the sugar most readily used by the body is glucose. Sugar, glucose syrup, and high fructose corn syrup are distinctly different compounds. Companies often use glucose syrup and high fructose corn syrup as cheaper alternatives to sugar. Excess amounts of high fructose corn syrup in the body are stored as triglycerides. The surplus of visceral fat that develops is distributed around the abdominal area of the body. This elevation in triglycerides and glucose leads to obesity, diabetes, and infection, which are further exacerbated by the daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup. The diseases caused by this one ingredient have generated a large population of people to assist with healthcare needs. Fortunately, individuals have the opportunity to decrease the amount of high fructose corn syrup they consume by simply reading the label.

Sugars in Diet: Types, Effects, and Misconceptions

High fructose corn syrup, in moderate amounts, can cause a tremendous amount of harm to the body.

Sugar is a carbohydrate required for energy production in most cellular organisms. The sugar naturally and readily used by the cells of most organisms is glucose. Glucose, fructose, and galactose are single-ringed sugars that are used to make more complex sugars. The major sources of complex sugars in our diet are disaccharides and polysaccharides: sucrose (table sugar) is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose, and lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, is also a disaccharide, formed from glucose and galactose. Common polysaccharides are starches such as rice and pasta.

Glucose syrup is a very viscous liquid formed by the mixing of oligosaccharides (maltose, dextrose) with water, producing a glucose-based liquid starch hydrolysate. The glucose in this process is generally extracted from starches such as barley, cassava, corn, potatoes, rice, and wheat, and creates a syrup that is approximately 90% glucose.

High fructose corn syrup is distinctly different from table sugar and glucose syrup, in part because of the high amounts of fructose found in the final product—approximately 50%. Cells in the body metabolize glucose first, leaving behind a large amount of fructose for storage as fat. This excess visceral fat leads to an increased waist line and a ‘fatty liver’ along with the formation of atherosclerotic plaques in the lumens of blood vessels in the body. Both adults and children are influenced by the damaging effects of triglycerides created by the consumption of excess high fructose corn syrup.

One main cause of type 2 diabetes mellitus is obesity. This metabolic disorder stems from high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and unbalanced insulin production. Fructose must first be converted to glucose by the liver before energy can be produced. Excess amounts of fructose in the liver are converted to triglycerides that are stored as fat throughout the body. Ultimately the development of obesity leads to insulin resistance and altered insulin production. The pancreas, which is responsible for secretion of insulin into the bloodstream, becomes fatigued due to over-stimulation, resulting in the development of type 2 diabetes and, if lifestyle modifications are not made, medical treatment may be required. Treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus generally requires initial management by an endocrinologist. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels lead to nerve and kidney dysfunction, potentially necessitating management by a neurologist and nephrologist respectively—costly! Along with diabetes and high blood pressure, addiction, as well as dental, systemic, and dermatologic infections have been linked to the ingestion of high fructose corn syrup.

Dental caries, demineralization, and abscesses have been associated with sugar consumption and Streptococcus mutans bacteria found commonly in the mouth. Research has shown that high fructose corn syrup affects the expression of the virulence genes in S. mutans by increasing the rate of demineralization of teeth.

Infections from Candida, a microbe that may be part of the body’s normal flora, are more common in individuals who consume high fructose corn syrup. Candida is most commonly known for oral thrush and genital infections. In systemic cases, the bloodstream, skin, heart, brain, eyes, bones, and other parts of the body may be colonized by this fungus. Treatment is extensive and time-consuming. Participants in the Candida iet are advised to avoid high fructose corn syrup to prevent severe Candida infections, as the nutrients in an adult’s diet affect their body’s microbial community. Inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis appear to be exacerbated by the presence of high fructose corn syrup in the diet. Removal of this one ingredient seemed to decrease the occurrence and severity of these inflammatory conditions (Pontillo ref.27). Could the significant changes in an adult’s normal flora directly affect the microorganisms that will colonize their children?

Generational Transmission and Influence of High Fructose Corn Syrup

Through daily contact, the detrimental effects of high fructose corn syrup could be passed down through generations.

Research suggests that microbes alter the perception of what we find appetizing. Small changes in the body’s microbiota could lead to increased triglycerides, inflammation, and infection. Could high fructose corn syrup-craving microbes alter the gene expression of the microbiota that colonize adults and the children they are in contact with for extended periods of time, leading to obesity and other pathologies at earlier ages?

In many ways, the detrimental effects of high fructose corn syrup could be passed down through generations. The body’s normal flora is shared on a regular basis through, for example, physical contact and mixing of body fluids (kissing and food sharing). In this manner, the oral and dermal flora of childcare providers will spread to children they care for on a regular basis. The process, however, most likely begins at childbirth and perhaps even earlier, during pregnancy. Infants born vaginally acquire their first microbiota from their mother’s vaginal and fecal secretions. Infants born via caesarean section acquire their initial microbiota from the healthcare providers involved in their delivery.

Another way microbes are spread is through breastfeeding. Normal contact between mother or caregiver and child will influence the child’s normal body flora throughout the first few years of the child’s life. Over time, the child’s microbiota may begin to influence the child’s desire for certain foods. This microbial survival mechanism causes cravings for foods that will promote the growth of the more dominant, populous microbes, while suppressing the growth of other weaker, less numerous microbes. This decreases competition and promotes an ideal metabolic environment for growth of the dominant microbe in the body. Mechanisms proposed to explain the way microorganisms could alter our diet revolve around the toxins they produce and the various natural, genetic engineering abilities of microbes, specifically bacteria and viruses. Bacteria are able to release a variety of toxins that are capable of altering a person’s perception. For example, by creating a euphoric state, cravings for specific foods can be established. In addition, bacteria may influence other microbes via gene sharing, incorporating specific metabolic pathways that require a desired nutrient. These microbial effects begin a short time after initial colonization of the hosts, both adults and children. By the time a child has been colonized by high fructose corn syrup-craving microbiota, the damage from disease will have been done.

Long-Term Impact: High Fructose Corn Syrup’s Role in Public Health and Economics

Removing high fructose corn syrup from food would affect the healthcare system’s earnings, even if only by a marginal amount.

From another angle, high fructose corn syrup is an ingredient that contributes to the development of a variety of illnesses. The earlier the onset, the greater the potential amount of money that will be spent in the management of diseases. Removing high fructose corn syrup from food products could significantly affect the earnings of the US healthcare system. Diabetes, for example, among all of the potential conditions caused by high fructose corn syrup consumption, will be the focus. There are 29 million people in the US with diabetes according to the Centers for Disease Control (retrieved 14 August 2017). The cost to treat an individual with diabetes over a lifetime can range from $55,000 to $130,000. The main factors determining the cost are age of onset and gender, with the lower end corresponding to individuals with late onset diabetes and healthy lifestyle modifications, and the higher to those with early onset diabetes and unhealthy practices. These costs, coupled with research that indicates high fructose corn syrup has an addictive potential, make this ingredient a very advantageous compound for some to include in foods. The responsibility of a healthy diet does not rest on the healthcare provider; manufacturers of food products with high fructose corn syrup, or regulatory agencies. By not removing high fructose corn syrup from food products, the choice is given to the consumer to read the label and leave the high fructose corn syrup on the shelf. The amount of money spent to manage and treat conditions caused by high fructose corn syrup is just too sweet to remove this tasty treat from foods.


The amount of money spent on diabetes globally, based on a study involving 4.4 million adults worldwide, is now estimated at greater than 800 billion dollars per year. In 2012, the cost to treat known cases of diabetes in the United States alone was 245 billion dollars. How many of those diagnosed cases of diabetes were directly related to the consumption of high fructose corn syrup? The list of medical conditions that are exacerbated in the presence of high fructose corn syrup and, over time, require medical management, is long. Understanding the effects the diet has on the body is crucial to breaking the unhealthy eating patterns created by misconceptions. Human microbiota are routinely exchanged between adults and children in close contact with each other on a regular basis. The unhealthy patterns created in an adult’s diet are passed down through generations by environmental, social, and economic factors. The body’s microbiota are also shared through direct exposure. Knowing that one ingredient could cause so much damage to the body simplifies the challenge of eating healthy. Just read the label, say NO, and leave the high fructose corn syrup on the shelf.


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Andrea Ramey

Andrea Ramey is an educator and healthcare provider with more than twenty years of experience. She enjoys providing students with the necessary skills for success. Her interests in noninvasive healthcare, minimally invasive medical procedures, and integrative therapies have inspired her to study acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and massage therapy. She is passionate about passing on the practical as well as intellectual knowledge she has gained over her lifetime. She believes a healthy body means a healthy mind.

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