Does high fructose corn syrup cause GI diseases? Gastroenterologist weighs in

It can be all too easy to pick up packaged, processed foods instead of preparing home-cooked meals from fresh ingredients in today’s busy world. They are undeniably convenient and are often quite delicious! However, patients have increasingly begun to question the role of processed foods in their diet, particularly if they are experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the most common ingredients found in packaged foods, which can lead patients to ask, “Is high fructose corn syrup bad for you? Does it cause GI diseases?” Dr. Alexander Shapsis, a gastroenterologist in Brooklyn, New York, weighs in.

Does High Fructose Corn Syrup Cause GI Diseases? Answer by Doctor In Brooklyn, NY

What is high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup is a more economical and sweeter option than cane sugar that food companies use to sweeten foods and beverages. In 2019, the high fructose corn syrup market was an astounding $5.9 billion, and it is anticipated to grow over time. Foods that commonly contain high fructose corn syrup include:

  • Sodas
  • Candy
  • Packaged baked goods, such as cookies and cupcakes
  • Juice drinks that do not contain 100% juice
  • Sauces and condiments
  • Fast food
  • Ice cream and popsicles
  • Packaged breakfast foods
  • Bread, crackers, and chips
  • Jellies, jams, and preserves

High fructose corn syrup and gut health

Just as the foods we eat can affect our cardiovascular health, a person’s diet can play a role in developing gastrointestinal diseases. In particular, there is increasing evidence that highly processed foods can contribute to systemic inflammation and an overactive immune response. When it comes to GI health, what does this mean? There is emerging research that has linked HCFS to a variety of GI illnesses, including:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease: intestinal microbiome changes have been implicated in the development of IBD. Additionally, mice consuming a high fructose diet have been demonstrated to have worse drug-induced colitis than those eating a high glucose diet, as well as alterations in their metabolic functions and microbiota distribution.
  • Colorectal cancer: In a study of mice who were genetically predetermined to develop colon cancer, mice that were exposed to high fructose corn syrup daily had a significant acceleration into advanced, high-grade cancers and an increased uptake of fructose in the intestinal tumors was found.
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): Consumption of high fructose corn syrup has been demonstrated to be one of several potential inducing factors in NAFLD, with excessive consumption of HFCS leading to lipogenesis (fat formation) in the liver and oxidative stress. 

Other health risks

The health risks of high fructose corn syrup, unfortunately, don’t stop with the GI system. High fructose corn syrup also presents a danger to maintaining a healthy weight because fructose can induce lipogenesis, particularly when dietary intake of fructose exceeds the capacity of your intestines to clear it and the development of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Additionally, HCFS can stimulate oxidative stress, creating up to 100 times more DNA- or RNA-damaging free radicals than glucose.

If you have questions about how your diet may be affecting your GI health and overall well-being, Dr. Shapsis and the team at Atlantic Gastroenterology are here to help. To schedule an appointment, call us in Brooklyn, NY, at 718 521-2840.

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