Here's a question for you. Should sugar be labeled a toxin and regulated like alcohol and tobacco? There are some in the scientific community that say absolutely.
Robert Lustig M.D, Laura Schmidt PhD. and Claire Brindis DPH, all researchers in health policy, argue in an opinion piece called "The Toxic Truth About Sugar" in the February issue of the journal Nature that sugar and other sweeteners are so toxic to the human body that access to them should be strictly regulated, especially for children.
Although not calling for a complete ban on sugar, Lustig and his colleagues say there are certain regulations the government could apply.
"For both alcohol and tobacco, there is robust evidence that gentle 'supply side' control strategies which stop short of all-out prohibition -- taxation, distribution controls, age limits -- lower both the consumption of the product and the accompanying health harms," they wrote.
Lustig has long been a proponent of labeling sugar a toxin. Lustig and colleagues noted that sugar poses dangers similar to those of alcohol. Fructose, specifically, can harm the liver, they wrote, and over-consumption has been linked with all the diseases involved with metabolic syndrome: hypertension, high triglycerides, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
It also has the potential for abuse, they wrote, as it interferes with the signaling of hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin and tinkers with dopamine pathways. It exacts a great cost, they said, with the U.S. spending $65 billion in lost productivity and $150 billion on healthcare every year for problems related to metabolic syndrome.
Sugar has been called "empty calories" for a long time, but the researchers write it's more than that. "There is nothing empty about these calories. A growing body of scientific evidence is showing that fructose can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic diseases. A little is not a problem, but a lot kills--slowly."
The U.S. population is already more than two-thirds overweight and about 75 percent of U.S. health-are dollars are spent on diet-related diseases, Dr. Lustig explains. The risk of liver failure, obesity, heart disease and diabetes are rising rapidly, and it seems drastic measures needs to take place in order for change.
"We're not talking prohibition," Dr. Schmidt says in a statement. "We're not advocating a major imposition of the government into people's lives. We're talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose. What we want is to actually increase people's choices by making foods that aren't loaded with sugar comparatively easier and cheaper to get."
Other researchers argue that other substances may be the cause of the obesity epidemic.
Some say that saturated fat, not sugar, is the root cause of obesity and chronic disease. Others say that it is highly processed foods with simple carbohydrates. Still others argue that it is a lack of physical exercise. It could, of course, be a matter of all these issues.