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Sugar metabolite proven to lower ‘good’ cholesterol

Ball-and-stick model of the methylglyoxal molecule.
Ball-and-stick model of the methylglyoxal molecule.
Jynto and Ben Mills Released to public domain by copyright holder.

A naturally produced metabolite formed from the reduction of white sugar (refined sugar), milk sugar, and glucose has been shown to damage high-density cholesterol (HDL) and reduce the blood levels of HDL. Dr. Naila Rabbani and colleagues from the Warwick Medical School in Britain found that methylglyoxal from sugar lowers HDL levels. The research was published in the Aug. 31, 2014, edition of the journal Nutrition and Diabetes.

Methylglyoxal is a normal result of the conversion of glucose into pyruvate. The process releases energy. Methylglyoxal is toxic to cells. The human body has several methods of removing methylglyoxal before it causes harm to cells. High glucose levels caused by diabetes or eating excessive amounts of sugar has been linked to higher risks of heart disease caused by atherosclerosis.

The effect of methylglyoxal on HDL has been shown in people that have diabetes previously but this new research is the first to demonstrate that HDL is lowered by as much as 10 percent by methylglyoxal levels that result from high sugar intake. High sugar intake overcomes the metabolic pathways that remove the substance. No drugs exist at present that can increase HDL although exercise has been shown to increase HDL.

The researchers suggest two possibilities to deal with the methylglyoxal problem. A long-term solution is the development of a drug that specifically acts on methylglyoxal to remove it from the blood stream. A more immediate and less costly solution is the development of supplements that contain glyoxalase 1. Glyoxalase 1 is the chemical that removes methylglyoxal from the blood stream. No foods contain glyoxalase 1.