Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017, Public Library of Science
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the open access journal PLOS Biology.

Researchers Cristin Kearns, Dorie Apollonio and Stanton Glantz from the University of California at San Francisco reviewed internal industry documents and discovered that the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) funded animal research to evaluate sucrose's effects on cardiovascular health. When the evidence seemed to indicate that sucrose might be associated with heart disease and bladder cancer, they found, the foundation terminated the without publishing the results.

In a previous analysis of the documents, Kearns and Glantz found that SRF had secretly funded a 1967 review article that downplayed evidence linking sucrose consumption to . That SRF-funded review noted that gut microbes may explain why rats fed sugar had higher cholesterol levels than those fed starch, but dismissed the relevance of animal studies to understanding human disease.

In the new paper in PLOS Biology, the team reports that the following year, SRF (which had changed its name in 1968 to the International Sugar Research Foundation, or ISRF) launched a rat study called Project 259 'to measure the nutritional effects of the [bacterial] organisms in the intestinal tract' when sucrose was consumed, compared to starch.

The ISRF-funded research on rats by W.R.F. Pover of the University of Birmingham suggested that gut bacteria help mediate sugar's adverse cardiovascular effects. Pover also reported findings that might indicate an increased risk of bladder cancer. "This incidental finding of Project 259 demonstrated to ISRF that sucrose vs. starch consumption caused different metabolic effects," Kearns and her colleagues argue, "and suggested that sucrose, by stimulating urinary beta-glucuronidase, may have a role in the pathogenesis of ."

The ISRF described the finding in a September 1969 internal document as "one of the first demonstrations of a biological difference between sucrose and starch fed rats." But soon after ISRF learned about these results—and shortly before the research project was complete—the group terminated funding for the project, and no findings from the work were published.

In the 1960s, scientists disagreed over whether sugar could elevate triglycerides relative to starch, and Project 259 would have bolstered the case that it could, the authors argue. What's more, terminating Project 259 echoed SRF's earlier efforts to downplay sugar's role in cardiovascular disease.

The results suggest that the current debate on the relative effects of sugar vs. starch may be rooted in more than 60 years of industry manipulation of science. Last year, the Sugar Association criticized a mouse study suggesting a link between sugar and increased tumor growth and metastasis, saying that "no credible link between ingested sugars and cancer has been established."

The analysis by Kearns and her colleagues of the industry's own documents, in contrast, suggests that the industry knew of animal research suggesting this link and halted funding to protect its commercial interests half a century ago.

"The kind of manipulation of research is similar what the tobacco industry does," according to co-author Stanton Glantz. "This kind of behavior calls into question sugar industry-funded studies as a reliable source of information for public policy making."

"Our study contributes to a wider body of literature documenting industry manipulation of science," the researchers write in the PLOS Biology paper. "Based on ISRF's interpretation of preliminary results, extending Project 259's funding would have been unfavorable to the 's commercial interests." SRF cut off funding before that could happen.

Explore further: Historical analysis examines sugar industry role in heart disease research

More information: Kearns CE, Apollonio D, Glantz SA (2017) Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documents. PLoS Biol 15(11): e2003460. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2003460

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7 comments

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Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Nov 21, 2017
fighting back against those who would ban the use of high-fructose corn syrup in human food?
Caliban
5 / 5 (2) Nov 21, 2017

What, exactly, are you trying to say, here?:

fighting back against those who would ban the use of high-fructose corn syrup in human food?


tekram
not rated yet Nov 21, 2017
Heart disease is increasing at a troubling pace in the United States, with costs expected to double from $555 billion in 2016 to a whopping $1.1 trillion in 2035, a new American Heart Association report estimates.
"Our new projections indicate cardiovascular disease is on a course that could bankrupt our nation's economy and health care system," said AHA President Steven Houser. He's also associate dean of research at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Amoeboid
not rated yet Nov 21, 2017
Stop with all the sugar. It's too much sugar.
humy
not rated yet Nov 22, 2017

What, exactly, are you trying to say, here?:

fighting back against those who would ban the use of high-fructose corn syrup in human food?

+ I think I should mention fructose is not sucrose although no doubt both sugars are, at least at high doses, bad for health .
Caliban
not rated yet Nov 22, 2017

What, exactly, are you trying to say, here?:

fighting back against those who would ban the use of high-fructose corn syrup in human food?


+ I think I should mention fructose is not sucrose although no doubt both sugars are, at least at high doses, bad for health .


Thanks, Humy, for answering in place of Scrotist. With the possible exception of himself, I'm pretty sure the rest of us are aware that fructose isn't sucrose.

That's why I asked, and expected an answer to settle the issue, or possibly raise some unknown meaning intended by his comment.

I suppose yours will have to stand, though, as it appears that Scrotist intends to remain silent.
johnp
not rated yet Nov 27, 2017
What a surprise, NOT, an industry funded body hides negative research findings which would have been almost guaranteed to hurt the industry's bottom line. It is well past time that some of these fraudsters serve serious jail terms. For I can't see any other way to possibly stop such, what now seems almost routine, corporate behaviour.

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