First off, this is the first of two posts, so please follow up with the second part for the full story.
We are all familiar with the dangers of alcohol and the fact that frequent alcohol consumption can fry your liver. Anyone who has had alcohol before will not doubt that it is a toxin even if they are not familiar with what it specifically does inside your body. This is because you can experience the immediate or acute effects of alcohol exposure in a single night after just a few drinks. You might not notice your heart rate becoming irregular, your blood vessels dilating or your loss fine motor control but you will notice that something is different as you become drunk or intoxicated. Then if pleasant feeling of being drunk had you doubting whether or not alcohol is a toxin, the hangover that comes the next day will surely confirm that it is.
So you don’t really need much education or convincing about whether or not frequent consumption of alcohol has a potentially serious effects on your health. The reason you can feel the effects of alcohol right away and get drunk is because a little bit of the alcohol is metabolised by the brain. Actually what goes to the brain is less than 10% of the alcohol. The majority of it about 80% gets metabolised by the liver. This is why you can develop all sorts of serious liver issues quite quickly if you drinking on a daily basis. However, your liver is a very powerful organ that can handle various toxins relatively well so one night of celebrating your birthday at the bar isn’t going to have you trying to get on the liver transplant list.
But what if we can make an alcoholic drink with a special type of alcohol that didn’t get metabolised in the brain, so you wouldn’t experience the acute effects of alcohol toxicity? You could have several beers at lunch and still be sharp as a tack during the company meeting at 2 PM. Maybe you’d even be allowed to drink and drive because it wouldn’t impair your motor skills. Companies might even get away with marketing this special alcohol to kids. Hey, I mean if the kid isn’t falling down, it should be okay, right? Well, of course not! No parent in their right mind would give the kid alcohol simply because they don’t appear drunk.
So here are the immediate health effects and the long-term health effects that come with alcohol consumption. How you feel about a substance that doesn’t get metabolised in the brain, so you get none of these immediate effects and you only have to worry about 8 of these 12 problems from frequent consumption? Still not okay with that, I’m guessing. Well, we already have a substance like this that is consumed on a daily basis. Like alcohol, is not necessary for any biochemical reaction in the body, you don’t need to survive, is not metabolised in the brain so it doesn’t get you drunk, but like alcohol and other toxins, is processed primarily in the liver. And frequent consumption of it, leads to all sorts of health problems. This substance is fructose.
Sucrose is made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. Fructose is in honey, it’s in fruit juices, it’s in high-fructose corn syrup; it’s what makes the really sweet stuff sweet.
“Now, you wouldn’t think twice about not giving your kid a Budweiser, but you don’t think twice about giving a kid a can of Coke; but they are the same.” Robert Lustig.
He is one of the biggest factors in bringing the detrimental effects of sugar to light. At first, he can sound a bit over the top when talking about sugar.
“Sugar is poison, it is a chronic…dose-dependent hepato liver toxin.” Dr. Robert Lustig
However he can back all of these statements up with more than 16 years of medical research, academic discourse, policy analysis, data analysis, a whole lot of patient care and maybe the most important, the biochemistry of how sugar is processed in the body. There is all sorts of compelling statistics we could talk about but the actual mechanisms that cause sugar to have such bad effects in the body, paint a much clearer picture. Once you understand how sugar is processed in the body it leaves very little debate as to whether or not sugar could be considered a toxin and you start to see how a lot of modern health issues are caused by sugar.
Let’s look at how sugar is metabolised:
First, let’s look at glucose or starch to see how non-toxic carbohydrate is metabolised. By the way is not necessary to remember all the specific terms that come up, just pay attention to glucose flows through the cell so we can see how it is different from alcohol and sugar.
So here’s was happening in the liver when you eat something like a slice of white bread. First off, only 20% of the glucose you eat will actually hit the liver because the other 80% is metabolised by all the other cells in your body. Therefore, glucose can get into the liver cell. It needs to stimulate the pancreas to make insulin. The insulin will stimulate this insulin receptor IRS-1, which causes a series of reactions to then stimulate SREBP-1 and activates this enzyme called Glucokinase. Glucokinase takes glucose to Glucose-6-phosphate which mostly gets stored in the liver as glycogen. Glycogen is a good thing because it acts as the reserve tank of energy that your body can access when necessary. This is why runners will carb-load before a race to completely fill up the glycogen stores and have more energy during the race than when it is just sitting in their gut.
What doesn’t go glycogen gets metabolised down to pyruvate. Pyruvate enters the mitochondria. Mitochondria is like the coal furnace of your cell because it converts the pyruvate to Acetyl-CoA, then burns that in the TCA Cycle to produce a bunch of energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate).
Not all of this is going to get burned up so a little bit may be leftover as Citrate. The SREBP-1 from before, activates these three enzymes, ACL, ACC and FAS, to start a process known as De Novo Lipogenesis (De Novo means NEW; Lipo means FAT; and Genesis means MAKING). So, the cell is taking this leftover Citrate and converting it into fat. The liver really doesn’t want the fat sitting around inside it so it’s converted down to something called VLDL (Very low-density lipoprotein) which is stored in your fat tissue. Not only can this make you fat but VLDL is actually a big contributor to heart disease.
While it might sound bad, it is actually not that big of a deal because remember only 20% of the glucose made it to the liver then half of that with the glycogen then a lot of that is burned off for energy so maybe 1/50 of what you ate will actually turn into VLDL. So, can farmer who’s eating rice and vegetables at every meal die of a heart attack? Maybe, but it’s going to happen when they are about age 90, so it’s not too bad.