Friday, June 8, 2012

Videos from the EB2012 Sugar Showdown and a Few Comments from Dr. Lustig

If you've been following this blog, then you're probably aware that back in April I blogged about a highly attended debate at Experimental Biology 2012 in San Diego (dubbed the #sugarshowdown in a hashtag on Twitter; here's the Storify story in case you missed it). The event was sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association.  

In that symposium, Dr. Robert Lustig, of University of California, San Francisco, who is famed for sensationalizing the position that sugar is "toxic" in media coverage and the scientific literature, was seriously challenged by not only speakers, but also by fellow scientists (from industry and non-industry alike) in the crowd during the question-and-answer period.

One of those scientists was Dr. John Sievenpiper, of St. Michael's Hospital, University of Toronto, who told me in an interview after the event, "Having both sides better represented was far more balanced than what came out of his two-million hit sensation on YouTube and a lot of the media coverage."

I wrote about one of the unbalanced media reports here.

The Sugar Showdown videos are now published online. Now, you can check out each of the talks for yourself and make your own judgment on the state of the research. Here are the talks in order of appearance:
Perhaps you'll agree with Dr. Sievenpiper that the symposium presented a "far more balanced" view on the subjects of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and fructose than what has been seen lately in media coverage.

One more thing I'll add is that last weekend I had a discussion with Dr. Lustig at the National Lipids Association annual meeting held in Scottsdale. We discussed Dr. Sievenpiper's views on the debate on sugar and where they may differ in their views.

After speaking with him, I gathered that Dr. Lustig and Dr. Sievenpieper actually do tend to agree more than disagree on the data. For example, Dr. Lustig told me that he understood full well that the animal data and ecological analyses shouldn't be used for arguing his position that fructose is a unique metabolic danger. He also agreed that answers needed to come from randomized controlled feeding trials in humans, which is really what Dr. Sievenpiper's research has been about.

So far, the meta-analyses and systematic reviews on randomized, placebo-controlled feeding trials comparing fructose to other carbohydrates have not revealed to have any quantitatively meaningful metabolic effects. That is, fructose has demonstrated no significant effect on body weight, blood pressure, or uric acid in calorie-controlled trials. On the other hand, fructose demonstrated improvement of glycemic control at levels comparable to that obtained in fruit.

What Dr. Lustig and Dr. Sievenpiper obviously do disagree on is in their choice of rhetoric. Dr. Lustig's uses with words like "toxic," "addictive," and purposely compares the fruit sugar's metabolism to that of alcohol. Dr. Sievenpiper is more reserved, suggesting that fructose (like anything else) can be beneficial at some levels, such as in amounts found in fruit, and harmful only at extremely high levels (even then, not any different than other sources of carbohydrate).

In response, Dr. Lustig reported at the Scottsdale event that he would be following up with some more research. He mentioned, in fact, that he would be involved at UCSF in conducting controlled feeding trials of his own. Stay tuned!