NUTRITION
June 28, 2010

Fat Cells Multiply In Fructose

If fructose didn't already have a bad enough rap, now it seems it may make kids' fat cells proliferate, too.

High-fructose corn syrup continues to get bad press, and a new study on how fructose may help children’s fat cells proliferate won’t do much to stop it. The research was presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Diego earlier this month.

Coade and her team found that visceral fat cells multiplied more quickly when they were soaked in fructose. Both kinds of fat cells developed insulin-resistance when soaked in glucose, which is the type of sugar that the body uses for energy.

The research team, led by Georgina Coade, biopsied two types of cells known as pre-adipocytes (soon-to-be fat cells) from 32 healthy, prepubescent, normal-weight kids. One cell type was subcutaneous fat, which is right underneath the skin; the other was visceral fat, which lies deep within the abdomen. The researchers placed samples of each kind of cell in solutions of glucose, high fructose, or high glucose, and watched how they developed during a two week period.

Coade and her team found that visceral fat cells multiplied more quickly when they were soaked in fructose. Both kinds of fat cells developed insulin-resistance when soaked in glucose, which is the type of sugar that the body uses for energy. Increased insulin-resistance is associated with type 2 diabetes.

While it’s unsettling that fructose may have this multiplying affect on fat cells, it’s also important to keep in mind that the study was performed in vitro (in a dish in the lab), and the effect of sugars on the body itself may be somewhat different. The next studies will need to look at just how the various kinds of sugar affect the growth and proliferation of fat cells in vivo (in the living organism).

It may also be worth noting that high fructose corn syrup is actually a combination of fructose and glucose, so the findings regarding fructose’s effects on fat cells may or may not be identical that of high fructose corn syrup. Reports on the health effects of high fructose corn syrup have been mixed so far. While the jury is still out on how various types of sugar affect the metabolism and physiology, it’s probably a good idea to exercise some degree of caution when going for sugary foods and drinks.

At the time of the study, Coade was a graduate student at the University of Bristol in Britain.

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