Fructose is Natural, but …
I’ve been thinking a lot about fructose lately. And it seems like so are a lot of other people. Every week I get between 10 and 20 letters asking for clarifications about this not-so-sweet subject. Fructose, known colloquially as fruit sugar seems like such an innocuous substance. After al, it come from fruit. And we all know how wonderful fruit is, right? And besides, it’s natural!
Well, at the risk of bursting nutritional and mythological bubbles, it seems that, much like everything else, even natural fruit sugar has a dark side. The problem is that humanity’s exponentially evolving skills at manipulating technology has gotten so sophisticated that we can now extract sugars from plants with such proficiency that we are all getting far more fructose than the body, and specifically the liver can handle. The average American is ingesting around 60 pounds of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and 140 pounds of sucrose every year. When you do the math (HFCS is usually around 55% fructose and sucrose, ordinary table sugar, is around 50% fructose) we’re looking over two pounds of fructose a week, per person, per year. And that doesn’t include the amount people are getting from fruit and honey and other sources. That’s a lot of fructose for a body has evolved and is equipped to handle the sweet stuff in only the smallest of quantities.
So, what’s the problem with fructose? Well, because of the human body is not supposed to be dealing with alot of fructose (for millennia it was a rare find), the metabolic systems that metabolize (process and store) it are easily overloaded. This is especially problematic for the digestive system in general and specifically for the liver. The alarming incidences of fatty liver disease (which is so prevalent that it is now considered a normal part of aging) and pervasive intestinal illnesses are at least partially related to the skyrocketing fructose ingestion statistics.
There is some interesting chemical choreography that is associated with fructose metabolism. One of the most relevant biochemical ballets when it comes to human health or the lack thereof, involves the way fructose can combine with the amino acid tryptophan. The resulting interaction can keep tryptophan from getting to the brain and when this happens BIG trouble can follow!
Tryptophan is incredibly important. It’s a must-have for the repair, recovery and the building of tissue. And, it’s mega, mega important for mood and well being and for getting a good night’s sleep. It gets turned into melatonin and serotonin which are arguably the two most important chemicals in the brain and fundamental to mental health. You can think of tryptophan as natural Prozac and from many people fructose will be blocking it’s access to the brain.
And there’s a fascinating fructose/tryptophan connection to eating behavior. Appetite and satisfaction (the feeling of fullness) a regulated by the brain. We eat or don’t eat in response to signals from the brain and one of the most important determining factors in what type type of signals will be sent is the presence or absence of certain chemicals. One of these is tryptophan. The brain in constantly scanning the blood looking for tryptophan and if it can’t find any, it sends it’s owner out on a highly focused, one-pointed hunt for food. If fructose is complexing with this vital amino acid, dietary tryptophan can become unavailable to the brain and there won’t be enough to activate the satisfaction centers vs. the “let’s go get a Coke or an apple or some kind of sugar” centers. An insatiable appetite for sugar or other foods is the ultimate result.
Another indication of fructose/tryptophan complexing issues is digestive symptoms like gas and bloating and loose stools, although it can show up in other ways. Especially when they occur after eating and drinking fruits, fruit juices and HFCS containing foods. This is especially a problem with big hits of liquid or powdered fructose which are quickly absorbed. Little kids are major victims because of of the vast variety of fructose-containing processed foods that target children. And mothers, please do not do the “apple-juice-in-the-pacifier-tipped- bottle” thing where your baby sucks the sweet toxin out at his leisure. When your baby cries for his apple juice he’s going through withdrawal symptoms that’s are just as severe as those associated with opium. The same with adults. There is a well-researched link between the sweet taste and so-called “opioid” receptors in the brain. These receptors are called “opioid” because they respond to opium. In other words, sugar and opium (think heroin) both “turn on” the same chemical systems in the brain. Which means, sugar is essentially brain heroin and when a baby (or adult) goes without it he screams because he’s withdrawing! That’s one of the main reasons it’s so hard to get off of sugar. It’s a withdrawal stress on, what is for most people, an already stressed out body system. In a way, ingestion of fructose and the associated problems are better than adding another stress in the form of withdrawal.
Taking 500-1000mg of tryptophan or 100-200mg of 5HTP once a day is a great way to stabilize mood and suppress the appetite. It may also be helpful for sugar cravings. 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful of glutamine powder taken once or twice a day may also be helpful. Glutamine powder is tasteless and dissolves easily in a glass of water. Like tryptophan, high brain blood concentrations of glutamine signal satiety. Both of these supplements can be supportive if you’re trying to lose weight. There’s alot more you can do if you’re trying to extricate yourself from the fructose morass. We’ll be addressing those strategies in a later post.