Obesity Epidemic: Fructose May Spur Overeating

Susan Szulc, MD

There was a recent article in The Virginian-Pilot citing that fructose may be responsible for overeating. So, what’s the scoop?

Lately, fructose has come under scrutiny for its possible link to obesity. Fructose is found in many processed foods, from sodas and juices to processed meats and snack food. It is commonly labeled as ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ or ‘sucrose’.  The food and beverage industry prefers fructose for its increased sweetness (over other sugar additives) and its positive effects on texture and appearance of process foods.

Since the 1970s, the use of high-fructose corn syrup in the US has been rising. During this same time period, Americans’ BMIs have also been on the upswing, giving way to the obesity epidemic. Is this coincidence? Or is fructose to blame?

A small study appeared in this month’s JAMA that compared brain MRI s from healthy volunteers before and after drinking fructose or glucose drinks. The MRI results showed less activity in the hypothalamus (the reward center of the brain) after drinking glucose, as compared to drinking fructose. This reward center controls appetite and hunger.

So, drinking glucose essentially “turned off” that area, thus turning off the hunger signal. In addition, the decreased activity in this area was reflected in how full the participants reported they felt after drinking the beverage.

The implication is that by consuming more fructose, our brain is “on” more often and our appetite is enhanced.

However, identifying one ingredient as the culprit for obesity may prove to be impossible. Obesity is a multifactorial disease. Genetics, socioeconomic factors and societal norms all play a role. Nevertheless, there is preliminary data that supports this fructose hypothesis and it needs to be explored.  But, for now, any healthy diet should limit processed foods. Reach for fresh fruit or vegetables instead.

+ Read more of Dr. Susan Szulc’s blogs on health and wellness!

About Dr. Susan Szulc
Susan V. Szulc, MD, is a board-certified internist with Bon Secours Medical Associates at Virginia Beach. She received her bachelor of science in microbiology from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Dr. Szulc earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va., where she also completed a residency in internal medicine. Dr. Szulc is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She is a member of the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Medical Women’s Association. Dr. Szulc’s special interests include palliative care and hypertension.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Szulc please call (757) 305-1797!

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