Q: I don’t understand how sugar can be so bad for you. We need glucose to survive, and sugar plantations have been around a lot longer than today’s obesity epidemic. So what’s the deal?
Jason T., Sebring, Florida
A: That’s a question a lot of people have, so thanks for giving us the chance to answer it.
First, the sheer amount of sugar Americans consume is mind-boggling. Twenty years ago, when the obesity epidemic was just starting, the average American consumed about 26 pounds of sugar a year (too much even then). Today, the average American gobbles up to 150 pounds annually! Most of it is hidden in processed foods, from English muffins to salad dressings.
Second, high fructose corn syrup has invaded almost every corner of the American food chain. Try finding condiments, baked goods and packaged meals without HFCS. The Cleveland Clinic says it can wreak havoc with your metabolism and lead to increased risk of high blood pressure, insulin resistance and obesity. A new study from UC San Francisco and Touro University California further reveals that sugar directly contributes to metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes that is characterized by a cluster of symptoms, including a large waist size, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood glucose (whether or not you’re taking meds for them).
Working with a group of obese children, the researchers found that after only nine days of reduced sugar intake (they replaced sugar with starches because they wanted to keep the kids’ calorie intake the same), “virtually every aspect of the participants’ metabolic health improved,” without a change in weight. And the scientists concluded, “This study demonstrates that ‘a calorie is not a calorie.’ ... Sugar calories are the worst.”
So if you ever thought that doughnut, soda or candy bar couldn’t really hurt you, think again. Added sugars and syrups add to your health woes with every bite!
Q: I found a site online that offers stem cell treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Would it be smart for my grandmother to try this? They say it could stop the progression and even repair the damage to her brain.
Kendra G., Moline, Illinois
A: While self-derived, pluripotent stem cells offer great hope, we in science don’t yet know how to use them to successfully treat most diseases. According to the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration has approved only a few therapies using what are called hematopoietic stem cells (that means they are derived from blood or bone marrow) to “treat patients with cancers and other disorders of the blood and immune systems.”
If you’re interested in having your grandmother participate in a clinical trial for an Alzheimer’s treatment, check www.clinicaltrials.gov for a listing of those being conducted by medical centers and research facilities NOT aligned with for-profit stem cell clinics, and check carefully. Then ask her doctor about whether it makes sense for her.
As for online offers of treatment, a study from the National University of Ireland, Galway looked at 68 websites in 21 countries that advertised “prescribe-to-yourself” stem cell therapies. The researchers found that only 29 percent of sites had internationally recognized accreditation, only 25 percent provided outcome data and more than 40 percent of sites never tell you the number or duration of treatments! That’s why a recent New England Journal of Medicine article warns that as of 2014: “The United States has the world’s highest density of online ‘stem-cell tourism’ clinics. New policies are clearly needed to prevent for-profit human experimentation and protect patients.” And a recent FDA consumer alert on stem cell “treatment” quotes an agent in the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations: “Scammers like these offer false hope to people with incurable diseases in order to line their own pockets with money.” So for now skip the online hope-mongers and work with your grandmother and her doctors to find the best care and the most supportive environment possible.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.