Corn Syrup Addiction?

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High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a product that finds wide use in the U.S. as a sweetener. It is derived from corn syrup by treating it with enzymes.

HFCS is a mixture of glucose and fructose in a balance that gives us a perception of sweetness which closely matches what we taste when eating table sugar (sucrose).

Last month, research that showed evidence of addiction to HFCS in an animal model was presented and may have implications for human diet and health.

The research was presented at the 2013 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting. Scientists used rats to test how they reacted to higher than normal doses of both sugars and fat substitutes. They then looked at the behavioral, chemical and neurobiological changes induced to tease out the addictive qualities of these food ingredients.

Dr. Francesco Leri, a primary researcher, wanted to figure out which vulnerabilities exist to different foodstuffs and whether physical dependence could exist, perhaps influencing our food preferences and contributing to what has become an obesity epidemic.

Since HFCS is so commonly used in foods, and, in evolutionary terms, of only recent widespread use (since the 1960s), discovering an addictive potential is important. However, the research is not complete and there are confounding factors.

Dr. Leri, and others, suggest one important factor could be individual differences in vulnerability to addiction. Surveys of consumption of cocaine show that though many individuals try these drugs, only a small percentage of them become addicted. Dr. Leri wanted to know if the same could be true of "addictive foods." "We have evidence in laboratory animals of a shared vulnerability to develop preferences for sweet foods and for cocaine," says Leri.

Leri’s research indicates that food addiction is not only possible but also might even be predictable. If this turns out to be the case, individuals might be warned that they are vulnerable to certain food types, including HFCS. It might also lead to pharmacological interventions.

The press release for this research can be found here.

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