Is Sugar Toxic? Study Links Sugar to Conditions That Lead to Diabetes, Heart Disease in Children

Is Sugar Toxic? Study Links Sugar to Conditions That Lead to Diabetes, Heart Disease in Children

A new study showing that sugar is definitely “toxic” confirms decades of belief that sugar is not exactly good for you.

A study, published in the journal Obesity, claims to be the first of its kind to actually prove that sugar is bad for you. Previously, it was unclear whether it was sugar itself or the weight gain caused by eating lots of sugar that led to health problems. “I have never seen results as striking or significant in our human studies,” senior author Jean-Marc Schwartz said in a statement.

Researchers at UC San Francisco and Touro University California recruited 43 children between the ages of 9 and 18 who were obese and had at least one metabolic disorder, like high blood pressure. They were given a diet that had the same fat, protein, carbohydrate, and calorie levels, but replaced all added sugar with starches. The diet wasn’t health food at all; instead, it was “kid food” like potato chips, pizza, and bean burritos. Overall, dietary sugar was reduced to just 10 percent of the kids’ calories.

The kids weighed themselves every day, with the goal of maintaining the same weight, not losing anything. If they did lose weight, they were given more food to eat every day. And the results were stunning: Without losing any weight, the participants saw dramatic health improvements after just 10 days. Blood pressure, blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol levels decreased, and liver function improved.

The researchers say this proves that it’s sugar itself that is causing health problems, because it turns to fat in the liver and affects your insulin resistance. Lead author Dr. Robert Lustig told Time that they now have “hard and fast data that sugar is toxic irrespective of its calories and irrespective of weight.” Sugar is bad for you because it’s sugar, they say, not because it makes you gain weight. “Up until now, there have been a lot of correlation studies linking sugar and metabolic syndrome,” Dr. Lustig said. “This is causation.”

To be clear, the study had its limitations because it was small, short, and relied on kids self-reporting their diets before changing them. Plus, the kids did lose some weight during the study, and that weight loss may have helped their health overall. Overall, experts say you should take a hard look at how much sugar you consume, but don’t ignore the total package either. Because if you’re eating too many calories in general, your health is going to suffer either way.