High Fructose Corn Syrup and Blood Pressure – the bittersweet connection

Sugar affects blood pressure

“one lump or two?”

Today’s nutritional scientists point towards the overuse of added sugar products in food preparation as one compelling reason why in North America, and other parts of the Western World, the health of the population has actually become worse over the last 40 years or so.

Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, including high blood pressure and cancer can all be linked to excessive consumption of refined sugar in the typical North American diet.  This includes the ongoing love affair of consumers with carbonated sugary drinks.

How sugar became a mainstay in the diet is a controversial topic in itself, as there is evidence that way back in the late 1960’s when it was being postulated by the nutritional scientists of the time that the culprits in heart disease were saturated fats, cholesterol and sugar.

The sugar industry then defended itself by paying for a major medical study to minimize the link between sugar and heart disease, rather blaming it on consumption of fats. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, with no admission of the funding supplied to its authors by the sugar industry.

So fats were put on the blacklist, and added sugar was used everywhere in diet foods to put back some of the flavour and, since according to some recent, albeit contentious studies, sugar may have the same addictive effect in the brain as cocaine, it was also used to hook everyone on a diet rich in sugars.

Enter High Fructose Corn Syrup


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Prior to the 1960’s the technology wasn’t available to make High Fructose Corn Syrup because the enzyme responsible for its ultimate production had not yet been discovered.  Once it was, however, a whole new sweetener, which tastes just like table sugar and contains all the calories with zero nutritional properties, was unleashed into the food industry.

The advantage HFCS had was that it was cheaper to produce than other sweeteners, hence its popularity flourished in the food industry.

And it is used in all manner of processed foods, candy and chocolate bars, fruit juices and sugary drinks.

Fructose versus Glucose

The real issue with HFCS as a sweetener is in its name – Fructose. 

Whilst Glucose is found in the body – its the blood sugar – Fructose comes from sugar.  In the case of HFCS Fructose makes up approximately 55% of the product, whilst the remaining 45% consists of Glucose.  

The problem is that whilst the body can handle glucose, it cannot deal effectively with fructose which in essence creates a toxic effect on it.  As a result  ongoing consumption of foods loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup can cause some of the following issues:

  1. overworking of the liver which has to metabolize 100% of fructose consumed
  2. leads to uric acid production, as a waste product – this may cause Gout if excessive.
  3. can cause obesity and fatty liver because a high percentage of fructose is stored as fat.
  4. increases LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides – risk markers for heart disease.
  5. causes insulin resistance and eventual type 2 Diabetes
  6. interferes with the leptin response – the “I’m full signal” in the brain, so you keep on eating.

quote re sugar

Effects of Fructose on Blood Pressure

One of the toxic effects of fructose in the body is that (as mentioned in point #2 above) almost immediately after consuming fructose the levels of uric acid in the body rise.  One adverse effect of high levels of uric acid is that Uric Acid interferes with Nitric Oxide (NO) production in the body.  And NO is necessary to help maintain elasticity in the blood vessels, without which blood pressure will increase.

Studies have demonstrated that elevated levels of Uric Acid  lead to hypertension.   So it is important to be aware of this connection.  One recommendation is to keep track of Uric Acid levels in the body.

Monitoring of Uric Acid levels is as easy as a simple uric acid blood test which, when completed, will help diagnose sensitivity to fructose.  A normal Uric Acid level should be in the area of 4 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) for men, and 3.5 mg/dL for women.  Levels above 6mg/dL for men, 7mg/dL for women lead to increased risk of developing hypertension, as well as other debilitating diseases – as mentioned in bullets 2 through 5 above.

Keeping Uric Acid in check

So, how to tame the Uric Acid issue?

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Since HFCS, or some other supposedly healthier form of fructose, such as Agave nectar, is found in virtually every processed food which stocks your local supermarket, as well as in sodas and fruit drinks, the obvious first place to start is to take a good look at the ingredients of the food and beverages you are buying each week at the food store.

Just to be clear fructose is found in fresh fruits and vegetables, too.  It represents less of a problem in this form because the whole fruit also contains fibre which mitigates the absorption rate and effect of the fructose due to the anti-oxidants and other beneficial properties involved.

Once again it is worth repeating that it is the FRUCTOSE FOUND IN ADDED SUGAR AND/OR SUGAR ALTERNATIVES, SUCH AS HFCS which is problematic. And it doesn’t stop with all the added sweeteners in processed and fast foods.

If you are dealing with elevated blood pressure, and/or insulin resistance, then it is also important to be aware that many of the carbohydrate-rich foods such as:

  • bread
  • pasta
  • rice
  • cereal 
  • potatoes

will break down into sugars, so should be avoided as much as possible.

Dash Diet menu eating plan

One dietary plan which has been successful in lowering blood pressure is the DASH Diet – Dash = Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.  The difference in this particular diet lies in the fact that it works on the principle of testing the effectiveness of a dietary pattern, rather than that of single nutrients.

The low sodium DASH diet plan emphasizes high consumption of fibre rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts and low fat dairy. It recommends restricting consumption of red meats, sweets, and sugar-containing beverages and saturated fats in general.  Its effectiveness in lowering blood pressure has been well studied and authenticated.

Final Thoughts:

“Knowledge is Power” – a phrase attributed to both Thomas Jefferson and Sir Francis Bacon before him, and one which holds true now more than ever.

Here awareness of the relationship between fructose, Uric Acid production and high blood pressure is the knowledge, and the power is one’s ability to choose how much fructose is ingested into the body.  Further knowledge is also gained by the incredible revelation of the Great Sugar Hoax and the fact that the Sugar Industry was able to pull the wool, or perhaps I should say ‘the candy floss’, over our eyes for decades.

But the screen has been torn back and the truth about the harmful effects of added sugar and sugar alternatives has been revealed once and for all.  So now we have this knowledge, we can act on it by making those lifestyle changes, especially in the area of Diet, which will put us back on the track to optimal health, including healthy blood pressure.

And when other factors which can help regulate our blood pressure, such as regular exercise, weight control, stress management and achieving balance in our daily lives, are factored in there is indeed a great deal we can do to control our health.

If anyone would like to comment on today’s topic, please feel free to add some thoughts in the Comments below and I will be happy to respond to them.