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Study links fructose intake to liver damge

As the battle over the potential harmfulness of high fructose corn syrup wages on, a study led by a Duke researcher has lent its support to the growing accord that increased fructose intake is detrimental to health.

Several recent studies in the national media have linked high fructose corn syrup to obesity. But a study released last month at Duke concludes that the common ingredient could also cause liver damage for individuals with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.

In the study, Dr. Manal Abdelmalek, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Duke University Medical Center, and fellow researchers examined how consumption of fructose-containing drinks—such as Kool-Aid, fruit juices and non-diet soda—affected the livers of 427 patients with NAFLD.

Based on their responses to a questionnaire, patients 48 and older who consumed fructose daily had increased liver scarring.

“Americans in general, since the development of industrialized foods, have been consuming more carbohydrates in the form of sugars,” Abdelmalek said. “The predominant sugar is fructose, which is predominantly in the form of high fructose corn syrup.”

The study’s results, however, have caused some outcry from corn syrup makers.

The Corn Refiners Association has asked Duke Medicine News and Communications to make a correction to its March 18 press release about the research.

Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, said the organization believes the study examined the effects of abnormally high levels of pure fructose, which is harmful in a way that she believes high fructose corn syrup is not.

Dr. Abdelmalek, however, said that of the fructose-containing beverages studied, 93 percent contained high fructose corn syrup. She added that her results are only applicable to people with NAFLD and not necessarily the general population.

Franca Alphin, director of nutrition services at Duke Student Health, wrote in an e-mail that although there is not currently evidence that high fructose corn syrup is harmful to healthy individuals, everyone should try to limit their consumption of it.

 “Overconsumption of HFCS is everywhere, including in the foods that are served [at Duke],” Alphin said. “We don’t specifically address this on campus, as there are more pressing nutrition and health issues at this time—although I think we’ll be hearing more about it.”

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