The argument that excessive sugar and fat consumption is harmful for the heart began in the 1960’s. This was followed up by several studies that looked at how sugar could damage the vital organs of the body with time.
In order to influence the results, the sugar industry too chipped in with funding and support for these studies and thus they ended up skewing the results. The results thus came out that fats were the culprits while now it is known that sugars are actually far more dangerous than fats.
Sugar cane field. Image Credit: TB studio / Shutterstock
Researchers from University of California at San Francisco published a new report this week (21st of November 2017) in the journal PLOS Biology stating that historical documents prove that the sugar industry has had a hand in hiding the true results of these studies from the general public. Their report is titled, “Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research – A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents.”
The UCSF gathered the internal documents from the sugar industries from 1968 and found that the Sugar Research Foundation which is associated with the Sugar Association went ahead with several animal studies. They wanted to explore if sugar consumption was associated with heart disease. For this they at the time, had fed the rats with a diet high on sugars. This led to rise in triglycerides. These are one of the components of bad cholesterol that is directly associated with the risk of heart attack or stroke in humans. They also found that sugar consumption is associated with rise of certain enzymes that can cause bladder cancer. Sugar Research Foundation, the UCSF researchers write, were most likely disappointed with the way the studies were showing sugar consumption was linked to heart disease and abruptly stopped the studies and di not publish the results. Stanton Glantz, one of the authors said that the sugar industry was deliberately “de-emphasizing” the effects of sugars on health and this investigation shows that, “the sugar industry has a long history of manipulating science,” he said.
The sugar industry gathered to form a Sugar Association in 1964. They paid Harvard researchers for a project called Project 226. The researchers at the time gathered the evidence available and published an article in 1967 that heart disease prevention needed only one dietary intervention – to reduce the dietary cholesterol and saturated fat consumption. Sugars were not held responsible for heart disease in the study. This was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Before that in 1965, a similar study appeared in New England Journal of Medicine blaming fats in diet for heart disease.
The Sugar Association did not take the accusations lying down and issued a counter statement that this investigation report was a perspective and not a study. It is more of a “collection of speculations and assumptions about events that happened nearly five decades ago,” the statement reads. They add that these UCSF researchers were always critical of the sugar industry anyway. This is not the first time that the sugar industry has had to defend itself. In early 2016, a University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center study had also said that sugars in the western diets were associated with the risk of breast cancers and its spread to other organs in the body. The Sugar Association at the time too had issued a counter statement. The Sugar Association speaking about why the study was stopped prematurely said that it was too expensive, significantly delayed and the delays were overlapped with an organizational restructuring of the Sugar Research Foundation that converted the Sugar Association to International Sugar Research Foundation.
The new report claims that just like the tobacco industry had suppressed the fact that tobacco consumption leads to cancers and other diseases, and ended up being sued and made to pay $10 billion over five years, the sugar industry too should be held responsible for their misleading claims. They add that the government was swayed by the sugar industry and did not advocate lowering of sugar use. Instead fighting tooth decay and plaques became the main thrusts against sugar consumption. Cristin Kearns who was the first author of the investigation added that the sugar industry still has the funds and the influence to change the nutrition guidelines. She said, if the earlier study was published, the dietary guidelines all these years would have been different.