If you check the label of pretty much any packaged food you buy, you’re likely to find fructose — often in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) — high on the list of ingredients. Food manufacturers have been adding the sweetener to their products for decades — both in sweet foods like sodas, cookies and cakes, and in savory foods like pizza, salad dressing, crackers and chips.
Fructose is a natural sugar found in honey, fruits and some vegetables. Naturally occurring fructose isn’t particularly harmful, given there’s only a modest amount in one serving of the foods containing it.
But the level of fructose contained in added sweeteners like HFCS can be dangerous to your health because the body absorbs it so quickly that its systems become overwhelmed. This can trigger health problems like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and insulin resistance, which can lead to obesity and diabetes.
Now, researchers have identified another potential health complication of consuming too much fructose….
How fructose affects the immune system
A stong immune system is necessary not only to fight off viral or bacterial infections, but to battle diseases, like cancer.
A recent study in mice by scientists in the United Kingdom has shown that a diet high in fructose might prevent your immune system from functioning properly.
Up until now, there has been limited understanding of the impact of fructose on the immune systems of people who consume too much of it. The U.K. study indicates fructose causes inflammation of the immune system and production of more reactive molecules associated with inflammation. This type of inflammation can harm cells and tissues, contribute to dysfunction of organs and systems and lead to disease.
Researchers also gained a deeper understanding of how fructose is linked with diabetes and obesity, given that low-level inflammation is often associated with obesity.
The study builds on a growing body of evidence about the damaging effects of consuming high levels of fructose. Dr. Emma Vincent of the Bristol Medical School notes the study takes another step toward understanding why some diets can lead to poor health.
“Research into different components of our diet can help us understand what might contribute to inflammation and disease and what could be best harnessed to improve health and well-being,” says Dr. Nick Jones of Swansea University’s Medical School.
The researchers say further investigation is needed to find out whether inflammation caused by fructose could contribute to other diseases such as advanced nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or liver cancer. Also, the study indicates high fructose levels leave cells vulnerable to further metabolic challenge, like the kind that occurs during bacterial infection or within the environment of a tumor. These findings could contribute to investigations for new therapies in areas such as cancer and infectious diseases.
Ways to cut fructose out of your diet
While experts are split on whether HFCS and other fructose sweeteners are less safe than other added sweeteners, they do agree that cutting back on added sugars in the diet is important for good health. One surefire way to reduce your fructose consumption is to eliminate as many packaged and processed foods from your diet as possible. Eating whole, unprocessed foods not only lowers the amount of fructose you consume, it provides you with more vitamins, minerals, fiber and other healthy nutrients.
If you’re a soda lover, try switching that sugary beverage for seltzer water flavored with a splash of lemon, lime or unsweetened fruit juice. Or you can pick up a soda flavored with the herb stevia, a natural sweetener with proven health benefits. It’s best to avoid diet sodas, as many of them contain artificial sweeteners that have their own health risks.
If baked goods like cakes and cookies are your addiction, try making them yourself and substituting the sugar in the recipe for a natural sweetener like stevia, raw honey or blackstrap molasses. Even with these substitutions, it’s best to make these kinds of foods to an occasional treat rather than a regular staple of your diet.
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High Fructose Diets Could Cause Immune System Damage – New Research — Swansea University
High fructose diets may harm the immune system — Medical News Today
Is Fructose Bad for You? The Surprising Truth — Healthline