Australian expert slams US study ‘sugar as toxic as alcohol’

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd February 2012

One of Australia’s leading diabetes experts has criticized a reported study published in the journal Nature, on February 2, 2012 that was written by Dr Robert Lustig, Dr Laura Schmidt and Dr Claire Brindis of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). The co-authors  claimed that high consumption of sugar “largely mirrors the effects of drinking too much alcohol” and should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco.

Dr Alan Barclay, head of research at the Australian Diabetes Council, has responded to this study by saying, “The commentary is a provocative piece intended to encourage debate. Many of the statements simply do not apply to Australia and on certain issues there is little evidence to support their views.”

Dr Barclay says that sugar consumption in Australia has “dropped 23 percent since 1980”, despite the US study claiming that over the past 50 years sugar consumption has “tripled worldwide”. Dr Barclay said that despite the Australian drop in sugar consumption, obesity had doubled and diabetes had tripled in this time.

Dr Barclay noted that Dr Lustig and his team in California believed that attention should be turned to ‘added sugar’, which was defined in the study as any sweetener containing the molecule fructose that is added to food in processing; and the study claimed that fructose could trigger processes that lead to chronic diseases including liver toxicity.

However, in Australia, Dr Barclay’s view was that, “One would need to eat at least 135g, or about 32 teaspoons, of pure added fructose per day on top of what one already eats to attain that degree of toxicity”.

Dr Barclay said, “The only disease proven to be related to excess frequent sugar consumption is tooth decay – a significant problem – but even then, refined starch is at least equally as cariogenic but is rarely acknowledged as a problem”.

Dr Lustig and his team in California had suggested a regulatory approach to limitation of consumption for sugar similar to the restrictive regulations for alcohol and tobacco. This could include levying special sales taxes, controlling and tightening licensing requirements on snack vending machines and snack bars that sell high sugar products in schools and workplaces.

However, Dr Barclay pointed out that there was a problem for this in that sugar is “not unavoidable”.

“To suggest that consuming sugar is a form of abuse is one of the worst cases of Puritanism that I have seen in a while,” Dr Barclay added.

Dr Barclay also stated that “soft-drinks and other core ‘non-party’ foods were already subject to taxes such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Australia”.

Dr Barclay concluded that sugar, “as with everything else in one’s diet, should be consumed in moderation”. He said the latest research studies were now revealing the importance of starch and specific fatty acids, “but casting sugar as the ultimate villain and calling for regulation is misleading, unfounded and unnecessary”.