It Is No Secret, Sugar Can Kill People
Major industries have and continue to devoted huge financial resources to shaping scientific debates that may threaten profits.
Prime example: Big Tobacco pushing back on how smoking kills people.
This corporate strategy of subsidizing scientists, lobbyists and researchers to present results putting the products in the good light of good health
So when it comes to sugar and whether the sweet stuff does a lot more than rot your teeth, a discarded 50-year-old research project may have come back to haunt Big Sugar.
Last Tuesday, an investigation published in the journal PLOS Biology reveals internal e-Mails obtained from public libraries that illustrate how, almost 50 years ago, the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF) terminated funding for its own study; 1 that, according to the PLOS Biology report, was on the verge of linking sugar with bladder cancer and coronary heart disease.
“The sugar industry has maintained a very sophisticated program of manipulating scientific discussion around their product to steer discussion away from adverse health effects and to make it as easy as possible for them to continue their position that all calories are equal and there’s nothing particularly bad about sugar,” said Stanton A. Glantz of the University of California at San Francisco, 1 of the PLOS Biology study’s authors.
The data shows that the Sugar Association, the lobbying arm for the industry called the new report “a collection of speculations and assumptions about events that happened nearly 5 decades ago.”
According to its own review, the industry group said in the statement, the study in question ended because it was delayed, over-budget and overlapped with organizational restructuring.
Rats fed sugar produced an enzyme associated with bladder cancer
In Y 1968, the Sugar Research Foundation, a predecessor to the ISRF, launched “Project 259” to answer questions raised by outside researchers about the role gut bacteria played in how humans digest sugar, compared with how they digest starch. Triglycerides that result from the process, in high enough amounts, are a recognized risk factor for heart disease. At the time, evidence was already suggesting the link.
W.F.R. Pover, at the U.K.’s University of Birmingham, was selected to lead the research with about $29,000—or $187,000, in Y 2016 dollars in funding.
Then, in September 1969, an internal report at the ISRF noted that rats who were fed sugar had higher levels of a particular enzyme, beta-glucuronidase, in their urine.
This discovery was not central to the purpose of the research, but the study published last Tuesday noted the Red Flag it should have represented at the time: By the late 1960’s, other scientific publications had found a positive association between higher levels of urinary beta-glucuronidase and bladder cancer.
Then in August 1970, Professor Pover told the SRF that he had almost answered the study’s original question.
He told the group that his work so far suggested that gut bacteria were, in fact, impacted differently, depending on whether the rats consumed starch or sugar, and that this would likely explain the higher triglyceride levels in sugar-eaters. But he needed a further three months of funding to reach this conclusion more definitively.
Then in September, as the Sugar Research Foundation was becoming the International Sugar Research Foundation, Vice President of Research John Hickson described Project 259’s value as “Nil,” and funding for the study’s final 12 weeks was terminated, never finished, and no results were ever published.
The study “would have added to the evidence that sugar was influencing heart disease risk”
Then 4 years later an ISRF report interpreted the near-finished project’s findings, according to the new study: Rats with conventional microbiomes fed a high-sugar diet had elevated serum triglyceride levels, “suggesting the triglycerides were formed from fatty acids produced in the small intestine by the fermentation of sucrose.”
In other words, the ISRF said, that a high-sugar diet may have impacted the rats microbiomes and raised their triglycerides.
“[The study] would have added to the evidence that sugar was influencing heart disease risk by increasing triglycerides,” said Mr. Glantz. “My sense is that this would have represented a substantial contribution at the time. Sugar was saying, ‘Don’t worry about the sugar-heart disease connections’; this paper would have said, ‘Yes, Worry.’”
Over the years the sugar industry has resisted efforts to declare a link between sugar consumption and heart disease.
And last Tuesday, the Sugar Association said in a statement that to “allude to a potential connection between sugar and cancer is irresponsible and misleading.”
But Cristin Kearns, a lead author of the new study, said the findings were “just 1 more piece of information that would have added to the picture that was forming.”
The implications of what happened to Project 259 go beyond its particular findings, she said. “The sugar industry probably knows more about the health effects of their products than they’re letting on.”
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively.