High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a man-made sugar. It is made industrially by converting half of the glucose found in corn syrup (100% glucose) to fructose (Ferder, 2010). There is currently a large debate about the effects of HFCS on health. Some believe that high intake can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, pancreatic cancer, diabetes, and liver damage, which is where the everyday media focuses. To make things worse, Americans typically consume excessive amounts of HFCS due to its abundance in the American food supply. Research suggests that HFCS is no different than any other sugar in foods. The Corn Refiner’s Association (CRA) is using this as backing to support a change in the name of HFCS to simple corn sugar. They hope this change will decrease the negative connotations the media has placed on their product and allow people to view it as they would any other kind of sugar.

Important Definitions

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: a sweetener made by processing corn syrup to increase the level of fructose, usually to between 42% and 55% of the total sugar, with the balance being glucose. It is used extensively as a sweetener in processed foods and soft drinks, particularly soda and baked goods, but it is also included in many foods not normally thought of as sweet foods.
  • Corn Refiner's Association (CRA): is a trade association based in Washington, DC that represents the corn refining industry in the United States. Corn refining encompasses the production of corn starch, corn oil, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Links to Individual Group Members' Nutrition Headlines

Morley; Nope, High Fructose Corn Syrup Does Not Cause Pancreatic Cancer; BoingBoing.net

"High Fructose Corn Syrup Does Not Cause Pancreatic Cancer" is the headline of an article posted on BoingBoing.net. The original research this headline is based off was carried out in a laboratory using human pancreatic cells that were already cancerous. Researchers placed the cells into either plain glucose or plain fructose solutions. Proliferation rates were similar in both groups (Liu, 2010). The difference came in what the cells used the energy source for; glucose was used via glycolysis to produce lactate and carbon dioxide. Fructose was used for nucleic acid synthesis. (Liu, 2010) In normal pancreatic tissues, however, use of glucose and fructose was similar, leading researchers to believe that the difference seen in cancerous cells was due to their internal alteration (Liu, 2010). Researchers from this study proposed their own unique models for fructose and glucose metabolism however the variations in these models are only found in cancer cells.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is approximately 55% fructose and 45% glucose (Tetri, 2008). Unlike sucrose, the two sugars are not bound by glycosidic bonds, which is part of the reason some believe that HFCS is metabolized differently in the body. Either way, however, HFCS is much different than pure fructose which was used in the research from the headline. Fructose, unbound as it is in HFCS, does not signal insulin as well as its counterpart (glucose) and may also prevent suppression of ghrelin. Both mechansims can lead to impaired satiety (Tetri, 2008). These effects were demonstrated in an animal trial where 50 mice were fed a diet containing HFCS and 40 were fed the control diet. Those mice with HFCS in their diet consumed 13.7% more total calories than those with no HFCS in their diet (Tetri, 2008). The same result is expected to be seen in humans. In a prospective study, researchers compared soda consumption with pancreatic cancer development. The hypothesis was that soda is a major contributor to HFCS in the typical American diet, so if there is a positive correlation, maybe HFCS does contribute to pancreatic cancer. The study found that there was no significant increase in risk of pancreatic cancer for those who had high soda consumption compared to those who abstained (Schernhammer, 2005). This study points out that there are factors such as overweight/obesity, activity levels, food choices, and chronic disease that may contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer.

The headline and article are surprisingly good sources of “news.” The author accurately portrays the research by not making HFCS the same as pure fructose, which many people and the media don’t always do. The article also notes that the cells were already cancerous bringing to life that all the research showed was that cancer cells could grow using fructose as an energy source. I do believe that this article was written in response to another one that was much more “noise”, so I applaud the author for clearing up the confusion. Further research is needed to determine a cause and effect relationship, however, due to the multi factorial processes of the human body, which cannot be reproduced in Petri dishes. I believe it is safe to say that HFCS does not causes pancreatic cancer.

Farrell;High Fructose Corn Syrup Prompts Considerably More Weight Gain, Researchers Find; ScienceDaily.com

A Princeton University research team conducted an experiment on the affects of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). This article is titled "High-Fructose Corn Syrup Prompts Considerably More Weight Gain" and was printed in Science Daily. The article suggests that there is a direct association between weight gain and eating and that HFCS is a factor contributing to the rising obesity trend in America. Researchers conducted two different experiments (Science Daily, 2010). In the first experiment, researchers fed 4 groups of 10 male rats either sucrose (table sugar) or HFCS along with their regular rat chow. Researchers discovered that rats that had access to the HFCS over this short period of time, ate less overall calories but weighed more than the rats consuming sucrose. During the second experiment, researchers looked at 3 groups of 8 male rats and 4 groups of 8 female rats for a longer period of time. The researchers discovered that over the span of 6 months, the male rats with access to HFCS weighed over 100 grams more than the rats who just ate chow, and the female rats gained about 10 grams more than those eating sucrose and about 25 more grams than those just eating chow. This resulted in a correlation made between HFCS and weight gain. Although this was a clinical trial, it did not conduct research on a human population and the population size of rats in the experiment was fairly small. The researchers also failed to look at the caloric intake offered to the rats as a possible factor of weight gain and focused primarily on the rat’s consumption of sugar.

HFCS is very similar to other kinds of sugar in its composition and should, therefore, not have any greater affect on weight gain than any other type of sugar. An experimental study done on college students at the University of Pennsylvania also suggests an association with HFCS and weight gain, but the results were not actually consistent, and the population was not diverse enough (Tordoff, 1990). Another group of researchers fed HFCS to a group of women and a group of monkeys and also concluded that HFCS led to weight gain, but just like the other experiments, it doesn’t have an adequate population studied. When referring to the hypotheses that HFCS prompts weight gain, the researchers made the accurate statement that, “obtaining definitive evidence in support of this hypothesis in human subjects would be extremely difficult" (Stanhope, 2008).

Media “noise” comes from the article "High-Fructose Corn Syrup Prompts Considerably More Weight Gain". Although there are many of these credible studies that support this article’s association between weight gain and HFCS, they do not yet have enough evidence to make a direct correlation or to claim causation. All the research mentioned fails to address other variables that may be associated with weight gain, and therefore, the contributing factor of obesity can’t be related specifically to High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Chugg, Soda Warning? High-Fructose Corn Syrup Linked To Diabetes, New Study Suggests; Science Daily

The Science Daily News published an article titled, “Soda Warning? High-Fructose Corn Syrup Linked To Diabetes, New Study Suggests.” According to this article, new evidence has been found that soft drinks containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contribute to diabetes. The scientists claimed to have found that high fructose corn syrup contains high levels of reactive compounds that can potentially cause cell and tissue damage. High amounts of damage from the reactive species can cause disease. Chi Tang Ho, from Rutgers University, conducted several chemical tests with 11 different carbonated high fructose corn syrup beverages. These beverages contained high amounts of reactive carbonyls. Reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar because fructose and glucose are bound and chemically stable. Elevated reactive carbonyl species are found in those who have diabetes. A single can of soda pop contains five times the amount of reactive carbonyls than that contained in the blood of an adult with diabetes (Soda Warning, 2007).

I wanted to determine if the Science Daily News article contained sound information, so I found the original research done by Chi Tang Ho at Rutgers University. The Science Dailyarticle was accurate in some of the results; however, it left out a few critical points that the research article presented. The results of the study showed highly variable amounts of reactive carbonyl species contained in the 11 different soft drinks, therefore, it is impossible to make an accurate conclusion. Also, they did the chemical tests on two different diet sodas that did not contain high fructose corn syrup. They found the diet sodas to contain reactive carbonyl species but at much lower levels. However, diet sodas still contained some of the reactive carbonyl species which could mean they too can cause diabetes. Researchers also found reactive carbonyls species to be contained in a number of products, including bread, coffee, and alcoholic beverages. Since reactive carbonyl species are in so many different products, this claim is not unique to high fructose corn syrup like the Science Dailyarticle leads you to believe (CY Lo, 2007).

Along with the original research article, I found two other studies on this topic. One of the studies was a human cross sectional experiment that compared the consumption of dietary fructose and glucose in overweight and obese subjects. Each of the subjects consumed glucose or fructose-sweetened beverages providing 25% of their energy requirements for 10 weeks. The fructose subjects were found to have a higher adipose volume, higher triglycerides, altered lipid metabolism, and decreased insulin sensitivity compared to the glucose subjects. Although this study concluded that fructose is worse than glucose, it does not show the comparison between high fructose corn syrup and sucrose. Therefore, this study does not provide accurate evidence for the conclusion made in the Science Daily Article (Schulze MB, 2004). The second study I found was done on rats, but because rats are different than humans, it did not provide accurate evidence that high fructose corn syrup is a unique contributor to diabetes (Levi B, 1998).

In conclusion, I found that the evidence claiming high fructose corn syrup is a unique contributor to diabetes is inaccurate. The article in Science Daily News is more noise than news. However, there is a lot of evidence pointing out that although it is not unique, it still can contribute to diabetes. Therefore, high fructose corn syrup should be avoided along with many other foods that can also contribute to diabetes.

Savage; High Fructose Diet May Contribute to High Blood Pressure, Study Finds, Science Daily

The Science Daily website's article reports that "a high fructose diet may contribute to hypertension (HTN)" or high blood pressure. Due to HTN being one of the most common risk factors for heart and kidney disease, many people have been searching for the risk factors and causes of chronic HTN itself. This article was based on a research study done by researchers from the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at the University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center, in Aurora, Colorado. They used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003 to 2006) involving 4,528 adults without a history of hypertension to look at the possible impact of fructose consumption in the form of added sugar on hypertension. The researchers calculated fructose intake of the participants from the self-reported high sugar foods that they consumed, assuming that the foods were half and half glucose and fructose. The trend discovered, and borderline statistical evidence that many other studies did not find, was that a fructose intake of ≥74 g/day (in the form of added sugar) associates with high blood pressure (BP) by 26, 30, and 77% higher risk with BP cutoffs of ≥35/85, ≥140/90, and ≥160/100 mmHg, respectively (Choncol, 2010). While this showed that a potentially modifiable risk factor for high blood pressure may be fructose intake, clinical studies would need to be conducted to see if low fructose intake would help keep blood pressure low.

Fructose is found naturally in fruits and is also makes us about 50% of everyday sweeteners such as sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Currently there is a debate about HFCS and its participation in the obesity epidemic and metabolic syndrome (with a symptom of HTN). However, a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology just last year looked at the effects of vitamin C and fructose on HTN, based on their effects on uric levels (high uric levels are an associated risk for developing HTN). However, this study showed that there was no associated risk for hypertension from increased fructose or decreased Vitamin C intake (Choi, 2009). Other research is also unable to provide a cause-and-effect relationship with fructose intake and hypertension.

The news article "High Fructose Diet May Contribute to High Blood Pressure" proves to be more noise than actual news. This is a new subject of study, and studies aren’t showing a clear side to the issue, leaving more investigating (at least a clinical trial) to be done before “news” is fully reported. Another problem with this article is that many consumers would take the title and information and assume that the high fructose in diet mentioned is synonymous with HFCS when indeed they are different. In fact, this is what I did when I first found my article, only to learn that HFCS is no different than sucrose, ~50/50 fructose and glucose, meaning you can have a high fructose diet from eating high sugar foods not containing HFCS.

Smith; HFCS - the poison that promotes obesity and liver damage; Natural News.com

The news article “HFCS - the poison that promotes obesity and liver damage” summarizes the finding of two different experiments. The first study involved a short-term and long-term experiment with rats (Bocarsly, 2010). The rats were given either just chow, sucrose and chow, or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and chow. According to the results, male and female rats given HFCS gained more than the chow counterparts. Because the first short-term study did not show any significant differences between sucrose and just chow rats’ weight gain, sucrose was not included in the long-term study.

The second experiment referred to is an observational study on how fructose, in the form of HFCS, affected non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) incidence (Ouyang, 2008). The researchers compared 427 adults with NAFLD. They looked at their diets, serum levels, and liver tissue levels. Of the patients, 52% had between one and six servings per week of beverages that contained fructose. Twenty-nine percent had one or more servings per day of fructose beverages (Ouyang, 2008). The researcher found that there was a strong correlation between fructose consumption and NAFLD damage.

HFCS and sucrose are both about 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Studies have shown that HFCS and sucrose affect the human body about the same, at least for the short-term (Bocarsly, 2010). Not as many long-term studies have been completed that compare the two added sugars. In regards to NAFLD, there has been a correlation shown between Type II Diabetes, obesity, and NAFLD (Ouyang, 2008). All three seem to be related to the increase of added sugars in the average America diet. Whether it is HFCS or added sugars in general that should be attributed to this rise, it is not yet known.

While this news article quotes from the researchers and is clear about what kinds of studies were completed, the author failed to mention some key aspects of the studies. One thing not stated in the news article is that some rats were given 12-hour access to HFCS and some 24-hour access. The 24-hour group only gained the same amount of weight as the control group (Bocarsly, 2010). The reason why was not pursued by the journalist. He also jumped to the conclusion that, because soft drink consumption (which often has HFCS in it) seems to be correlated to NAFLD, fructose is the cause of NAFLD prevalence. HFCS was the only added sugar that was part of this study. The article “HFCS- the Poison that Promotes Obesity and Liver Damage” is more “noise” than “news” and is misleading for most readers. Only what appears to make HFCS look bad is stated in the article, even though there are facts that contradict the assumption that HFCS is “poison.”


We believe too many consumers are reading articles in the media and interpreting all studies done as absolute proof. Consumers are applying unproven associations to their own lives without considering the truthfulness and accuracy of studies done. We suggest that there are many other variables other than HFCS contributing to chronic diseases and obesity, including sedentary lifestyles, high fat intake, overall nutrient consumption, and genetic components.

Research is continually being presented that lists the negative impacts that High Fructose Corn Syrup has on the body. Media has stated that High Fructose Corn Syrup causes diabetes, pancreatic cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, and liver damage. Studies done on HFCS are composed mainly of noise and are misrepresented throughout media. Through our own critiques and analysis of studies done, we discovered that HFCS may have a strong association to all of these ailments, but ultimately there is not enough evidence presented to accurately support the media's conclusions.

We believe that instead of suggesting elimination of one single ingredient, that media should be focusing on advertising a healthy and well balanced lifestyle and should promote good health through individual behavior modification.


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