Gastrointestinal DiseasesHuman InterestPreventive Medicine


Processed foods are everywhere. Just about any food that comes boxed, packaged, or bottled has been “processed,” meaning substances are added to them to make them taste good and not spoil. Food is expensive these days, and the less often you have to spend money to replace odorous and discolored food, the better. 

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of those substances that contributes to “processing.” It is an “economical sweetener” that many say is “better than cane sugar.” It is so ubiquitous in our food, it has drawn the attention of researchers in nutrition, metabolism, microbiology, and gastroenterology, and has become a subject of concern. It is a “sugar substitute….used in bakery products (cookies, cupcakes, pastries), dairy products” (ice cream, popsicles, frozen bars), candy, soda (Coke, Pepsi, Mt. Dew, Dr. Pepper, Root Beer), juice drinks not 100% juice (fruit punch, lemonade), fast foods, breakfast foods, bread, crackers, pancake syrup, jellies, jams, and preserves—among others. Close reading of product labels quite frequently reveals HFCS has been added to the item. Thus, the phrase “you are what you eat” takes on huge significance in the case of HFCS.

There have been numerous reports linking HFCS to adverse health effects such as obesity and the metabolic syndrome. The Metabolic Syndrome is a combination diagnosis whose criteria are high blood sugar, high blood pressure, excessive waist circumference (obesity), and high cholesterol and triglyceride. When lumped together, these individual disorders significantly contribute to the development of arteriosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, and shortened life expectancy. 

The consumption of HFCS has increased significantly over the past 30-35 years to where it now represents 40% of the sweeteners added to foods and beverages. It is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the U.S., and soda represents the largest source of HFCS consumption. The rapid increase in HFCS use mirrors the rapid increase in obesity seen in the U.S. population. “Dietary fructose contributes to increased energy [intake]” potential, but that is offset by weight gain. In other words, HFCS is a source of energy, but also causes weight gain. Beverages sweetened with HFCS contribute to over consumption of calories, the underlying cause of obesity. From a metabolic standpoint, high fructose corn syrup raise many concerns.

Additionally, high fructose corn syrup has adverse effects on the intestinal tract that manifest themselves in bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. HFCS is poorly absorbed in the intestinal tract so it can have a laxative effect. In some people, excessive or repeated consuming of HFCS results in uncontrollable bowel movements. These border on fecal incontinence. Avoiding HFCS corrects the problem, but it requires constant self-control. HFCS has this effect because of its effect on normal intestinal bacteria (flora). HFCS changes the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria in the lower GI tract. The human gastrointestinal system is populated by bacteria which aid digestion and control bowel function. When the positive-negative bacteria balance is disturbed, GI symptoms occur. Avoiding HFCS allows the gut flora to remain stable and bowel function is unaltered. 

A more serious result of HFCS is the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). 

Because of its affects on blood sugar and cholesterol, HFCS facilitates the accumulation of fatty deposits in the liver. As the amount of fat deposited in the liver increases, normal liver cells are compressed, die, and form scar tissue. This significantly affects liver function and has serious consequences. 

So if you’re like me, and millions of others, with bowel issues and excessive weight gain, I urge you to “Google” “foods high in high fructose corn syrup” and immediately begin eliminating them from your diet. I’m certain in time you will notice a difference that will seem like a renewal of good health. 

References: Khorshidian N, et al. Fructose and High Fructose Corn syrup: are they a two-edged sword? Int J Food Sci Nutr 2021 Aug;72(5):592-614.

Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin  Nutr 2004 Apr;79(4):537-543.

Duffy KJ, Popkin BM. High-fructose corn syrup: is this what’s for dinner? Am J Clin M

Nutr 2008 Dec;88(6):1722s-1732s.

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