Sunday, August 9, 2009

What motivates me to read labels?

HFCS has been in the news off and on for at least the last few years. Some studies suggest a link between HFCS and the increase in obesity; other studies state that it's a factor in the large numbers of diabetes cases; some authors suggest that HFCS may contain a dangerously high concentration of mercury. The list goes on. And the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), a DC lobbying group,, has been fighting every one of those claims. Just as an example, in June 2008, CRA launched a PR campaign that reportedly will cost $20 to $30 million over the next 18 months.

Well, here's a claim i'd love to see CRA try to fight:

HFCS makes people who suffer from Fructose Malabsorption experience intestinal distress.

Well good lord, who ever heard of that? Fructose Mala-what? According to medical literature on this condition, about 36 percent of Western Europeans have this condition; half of that 36 percent experience symptoms. Other reports likewise link it to the Western and Central European gene pool and say that Americans whose families come from that area of the continent have a greater chance to have this condition. So, while exact numbers are not known, it is certainly not a very rare food "allergy" (technically, malabsorption just refers to the fact that you cannot properly digest something and it causes issues in your intestines. So it's not really an allergy.)

Here's how one medical journal describes the symptoms of Fructose Malabsorption:

Bloating, abdominal discomfort, and sometimes osmotic diarrhea are induced by the degradation products produced by the colonic bacteria.
Decreased Serum Zinc in Fructose Malabsorbers, Maximilian Ledochowski,1* Bernhard Widner,2 Christian Murr,2 and Dietmar Fuchs2 (1 Department of Clinical Nutrition and 2 Institute of Medical Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Innsbruck, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria; Clinical Chemistry 47, No. 4, 2001

In my case, the first symptom is that my saliva seems to thicken and taste almost metallic. Then i notice abdominal bloating and i begin to have some trouble breathing; i also may experience this painful gasping/muscle spasm from somewhere in my upper abdomen. The saliva production seems to have gone into hyperdrive by this stage and it's almost as though i can't keep it down. My entire abdomen is by this point bloated and quite painful. The constipation/diarrhea (sources say both may occur depending on the patient) is not so much an issue for me (i just don't really experience that symptom as much as some people do apparently.) The duration of the discomfort would go on for at least 4 to 8 hours typically, with lingering effects for the next day or so.

Before i knew what i was experiencing, i tried just about everything. I thought it might be heartburn so i tried pepcid, pepto bismal, etc. I tried those chalky little white tablets (what are those called?) , i tried drinking tons of water because maybe it was dehydration; i even tried drinking tons of fruit juice because what could be healthier than that?

I also saw doctors. "Sounds like you have a food allergy," they would say. "Come in next time you have an episode." Well, they usually happened outside of office hours...

Years later (i would say I first experienced these symptoms in the mid 1980s, with episodes at least four or five times a month or so, sometimes with lingering effects into the next day), someone was talking to me about HFCS. So, i thought "Corn syrup? what could be wrong with that?" I started to read up on this allegedly evil substance. I came across a description of Fructose Malabsorption and it was like a big bell started ringing. Oh my God, i finally knew what was causing me such discomfort!

The next process was somewhat lengthy: what foods do i now avoid? I talked to my doctor and we talked about how this would effect my diet. Basically, i did four things:

  • Cut down on naturally-occurring fructose
  • Tried to eliminate HFCS from my diet
  • Tried to figure out what I could eat when I am going to a restaurant and don't know the ingredients
  • Tried to watch my intake of sorbitol and cut out xylitol (they apparently play a role in how the body digests fructose and make it even more difficult)

So, there have been some tweaks as i refine my diet and learn what i can eat, but....

..... I have not been ill in quite a while! I went from being ill anywhere from 4 to 10 times a month to an incredible once or twice a year! (when, for example, i happen to eat at a restaurant and have some HFCS in something with out knowing it.)

If HFCS is in everything, how does one eliminate it from one's diet? Reading labels is a big first step. You start to know which product lines use HFCS. Shop the perimeter and avoid food with a long shelf life. Shop at places like Trader Joe's (i think i've only found one product there with HFCS--some kind of Beef Jerky.) Try to eat at restaurants where they focus on fresh ingredients. Avoid salad dressing and condiments and syrup if you're not sure what brand it is. Drink diet sodas (or none at all. Now there's even Pepsi Throwback with natural can sugar.) Since most processed breads have HFCS, avoid sandwiches when eating out unless they bake their own bread. The net effect is actually a good thing. You end up eating foods that have fewer chemicals in them and ingredients you can make sense of. You become a lot more conscious of what you're eating. Overall i would say i feel much better and healthier now.

Edit: It may be the fructose that's the major culprit even for people who don't suffer from Fructose Malabsorption:

Picture source:

According to one source, 40 percent of Americans have Fructose Malabsorption, half of whom experience symptoms.

Found an incredibly informative report called "Clinical Ramifications of Malabsorption of Fructose and Other Short-chain Carbohydrates." Very informative about how fructose affects people with "FM" and other IBS issues.

The ability of the human small intestine to absorb
fructose is limited, especially when compared with the
rapidity and completeness of glucose absorption.
Thus, when 50 g fructose is ingested without other
food, up to 80% of people will incompletely absorb the
fructose, as demonstrated by breath hydrogen testing
(9–12). Absorption is enhanced by co-ingestion with
glucose, since glucose uptake stimulates additional
transport pathways for fructose absorption in the small
intestinal epithelial cell. Because of this, the fructose
released from the hydrolysis of sucrose is generally
completely absorbed.

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