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Even 'safe' levels of added sugar can damage your health

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By now, the medical community has established sugar as being a very unhealthy addition to any diet that needs to be limited as much as possible. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar on a regular basis has been linked to various health problems, both directly and indirectly. Sugar is also the main cause of obesity which, in turn, also leads to numerous other issues.

Research is still ongoing in order to determine exactly how harmful added sugar is to us and in what quantities it is safe to consume. Despite the fact that there used to be a general consensus regarding exactly what would constitute a healthy dose of sugar, a new study performed by the University of Utah (1) would suggest that even these supposedly “safe” doses can be harmful to your health.

A Look at the Results of the Study

The study examined the effects of the “safe” sugar doses in an average diet by observing what kind of impact they have on the health of mice. For the test, 25% of the mice’s total diet constituted of added sugar gained from fructose and glucose.

The test mice were fed a specially-produced diet made from a combination of wheat, corn, and soybean, with the addition of glucose and fructose making up a fourth of the total calories consumed. A control group of mice was also examined and they were fed the same diet, but with corn starch used instead of the sugar. Converted into human portions, this would amount to a regular healthy diet plus drinking three cans of diet soda a day.

By current medical standards, this is considered to be safe and still it is far less than the amount of sugar that many people consume on a daily basis. Despite this, the added sugar had a significant impact on the quality of life of the mice in the experiment – the females died twice as fast as their normal lifespan and the males were found to be 25% less likely to reproduce and hold territory.

The study lasted for 32 weeks and took place in 11 barns where the 156 mice that took part in the experiment were kept. After the 32 weeks had passed, 35% of the female mice with the sugar diet had died. This was more than double the rate of the 17% of the control group. Male mice experienced the same rate of death, but they were not as territorial and ended up with 26% less territory than the male mice in the control group.

This study shows that adverse effects can still occur after consumption of “safe” levels of added sugar, but that these are not the ones normally associated with excessive sugar intake. The mice did not become obese nor did they show any metabolic symptoms. However, the effects that were present are no less troublesome – their lifespan was shortened and their ability to reproduce was impaired.

Wayne Potts, biology professor at the University of Utah and also senior author of the study, explained that previous studies did not reach the same conclusions as they did because the doses they fed to mice were too large and were disproportionate to the amount of added sugar found in the average human diet.

The results achieved in this study were very similar to those of a previous experiment of his which looked at the effects of inbreeding between mice. Due to this similarity, Professor Potts has likened the effects of a diet with 25% added sugar to being the inbred offspring of first cousins.

Why Is 25% Safe?

Up until this point, 25% was considered to be the limit at which consumption of added sugar is still safe. This coincidentally, is also approximately the percentage of Americans who follow such a diet. This information was confirmed and encouraged by the National Research Council (2) which specified that, in this case, added sugar refers strictly to sugar which is not found naturally in non-processed products such as fruits and vegetables.

The diet which was fed to the mice would have been the equivalent of a perfectly healthy no-sugar diet for humans plus three cans of sweetened soda per day. However, according to the latest research made available by MedicineNet (4), this is way below the amount of added sugar that the average American actually consumes in a day.

The research would suggest that the consumption of added sugar has increased by a staggering 50% since the 1970s. A link has also been established between the excessive consumption of sugar and many health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Sadly, much of the time consumers don't even realize that the foods they eat are

Why Use Mice?

Critics of the study would point out to using mice as a flawed way of determining an impact on human health since the two beings are so different. However, mice have been used in experiments to approximate the effects of various triggers on humans for a long time. In this case, mice have a similar diet to humans under normal circumstances since they have been present in areas populated by humans ever since we started developing agriculture.

This means that they would not suffer any ill effects solely because they are being fed something that they would not normally eat as this would skew the results of the study. Instead, any changes would be the direct result of introducing sugar in their diet in abnormal, though supposedly safe amounts. Indeed, this was also backed up by the results of the control group who were used to confirm that there were no other variables involved in the test that would affect the outcome.

In actuality, the mice used in the experiment were not actually typical test mice. Those animals normally come from previous generations that have been bred in captivity in order to make them more cooperative and used to the environment. However, this also means that they lack certain factors found in wild mice, factors which were important for this study such as territoriality. That is why this test specifically used mice descended from wild house mice.

Further Reading

(1) - http://unews.utah.edu/news_releases/sugar-is-toxic-to-mice-in-safe-doses/
(2) - http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=13221
(3) - http://www.thecandidadiet.com/10-surprising-sources-of-sugar/
(4) - http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56589

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