Sugar: the Newest Controlled Substance?

by pharmacy on February 22, 2012

A team of researchers from the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) poses the question of controlling sugar, much in the same way we limit access to alcohol and cigarettes to adults only. Why? Because sugar is equally dangerous. Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis make a strong case. Far from being empty calories, they assert, sugar is a cumulative toxin with serious health risks.

The food industry would like us to believe that sugar is just like any other carbohydrate, and that all sugars are created equal. One excellent example of the hard sell is the high fructose corn syrup ad campaign that sounds to the whole world like a public service announcement for the sugar industry. Scientists know that sugar is far more toxic than a breakdown of calories and carbs. They also know that sugar intake has tripled in 50 years, hand in hand with obesity.

Aside from the inherent dangers of sugar is the similarity to the effects of alcohol. The UCSF report notes that excess sugar behaves much like alcohol in the body, damaging the liver, affecting hormones, altering metabolism, and raising blood pressure. Then there’s the addiction factor.

According to the American Heart Association, the amount of sugar we consume is almost criminal: 22 teaspoons a day for adults, and 34 for teens. Most of us don’t even realize how much we take in, since sugar might be hidden in bread, soup, canned vegetables…everything. The cumulative effect of sucking down all this sugar can lead to a number of life-threatening conditions, including diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease. Obesity alone has reached worldwide pandemic stage, contributing to 35 million deaths stemming from obesity-related complications. The problem can’t be denied, but is legislation the answer? If so, what legislation is proper and justified?

Any attempt to regulate sugar use will be met with major resistance. Most of the problem will come directly from the consumer. We know sugar is bad, but it tastes so darn good. And it makes us feel good. We have a history of stubbornly clinging to things we know are bad for us, like cigarettes. It won’t be easy to convince the public that sugar is the root of many ills and needs to be regulated, kept out of the hands of children, or heavily taxed to pay for the additional health care costs that sugar addicts will eventually incur.

The answer can’t be prohibition, and labeling is already in place. The only answer is the same used to deal with tobacco and alcohol – taxation, education, and some restrictions on access. Removing candy, soda, and sugary energy drinks from schools might be a start. Perhaps to be replaced with healthy alternatives, like nut-based energy bars with tightly regulated sugar levels, flavored water, or low-sugar vegetable juices. Would you agree with sugar regulations? Why or why not? What would you do if it were your law to make?

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