How Much Sugar Is Safe?

Jan. 31, 2014

By Medical Discovery News


Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City caused a controversy when he tried to ban the sale of sugary drinks more than 16 ounces. Thus the “Big Gulp” rebellion was born and the ban was later overturned by the courts. Yet the rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity remain out of control in the U.S.

In the U.S., 24 million people over age 20 have diabetes. Another 78 million have pre-diabetes with blood glucose levels higher than they should be – the start of glucose intolerance.  And down the road, this may lead to life-threatening heart disease (the No. 1 killer of adults), which is also linked to obesity affecting more than 80 million Americans.

Much of the obesity epidemic has been blamed on unhealthy eating and poor nutrition. Refined sugar has been identified as a source of excess calories. According to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, almost 50 percent of sugar in the diets of Americans comes from sugary drinks and sweetened fruit drinks. The debate over just how much sugar is too much in terms of our health was addressed by a recent study and the results are sending shock waves through the medical community. 

In the experiment, one group of mice ate a normal diet and another group ate a diet where one quarter of the calories came from sugar similar to that in high fructose corn syrup. This level of sugar is pretty equal to that consumed naturally by 15 to 25 percent of the U.S. population. This is equivalent to a person consuming three cans of a sugary beverage a day in an otherwise sugar-free diet. Current nutrition guidelines consider this to be at the top of the safe level of sugar for people.

After 26 weeks of a monitored diet, all the mice were released into an experimental natural environment. Over the next 32 weeks, twice as many sugar-fed female mice died compared to the control group. The sugar-fed male mice produced 25 percent fewer offspring and held 26 percent less territory than mice from the control group. Overall, dietary sugar was linked to a shorter life span, limited reproduction, and lowered competitive success. 

Metabolic measurements on the sugar-fed mice showed changes in glucose clearance and increases in cholesterol levels, but these were considered minor. Nevertheless, life outcomes called Organismal Performance Assays were significantly affected. This may represent a new way to gauge important changes in overall life parameters without corresponding physiological changes.

This certainly raises the question of how much sugar is too much, and the debate over the appropriate level of refined sugar for good human nutrition will continue. It will be interesting to watch in the coming months and years to see if these results are substantiated and if they lead to new nutritional guidelines. Who knows – maybe Mayor Bloomberg was right after all!

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The Male Pill

July 26, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

“Birth control pills should be made for men. It makes more sense to unload a gun than shoot at a bulletproof vest.” While the first person to post the comment is unknown, it has since been posted on many a Facebook wall, Pinterest board, and Twitter feed. But science has long been working on such a pill, which is now undergoing clinical trials.

While more than 100 million women take the pill for contraception, it remains a topic of controversy in the realms of religion and politics. It works by using synthetic estrogen and progesterone hormones to prevent ovulation, the production of an egg. No egg equals no possibility of pregnancy.

The male pill that is currently being evaluated as a contraceptive also relies on hormones, a combination of progesterone and testosterone (or an equivalent). Progesterone lowers the levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Both are essential for stem cells to develop into sperm and mature, a process called spermatogenesis. Just as no pregnancy can occur without an egg, likewise pregnancy cannot occur without mature sperm to fertilize the egg.

So far, one version of the male pill has been tried in limited studies of about 50 men with 100 percent effectiveness. However, it comes with some side effects. Since LH reduces testosterone levels, a man taking the male birth control pill must also take extra testosterone. Low testosterone causes low sex drive, depression, infertility, and hair loss.

However, new research has developed a non-hormonal approach to male birth control that appears to have great promise. Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard University have identified a small molecule called JQ1 that sticks to a protein in immature sperm cells called BRDT. Normally, BRDT allows sperm to become fully mature by binding to specific areas in the genome and causing genes to activate. But JQ1 binds to BRDT and prevents it from effectively interacting with the genome, so genes are not turned on and the sperm cells do not develop. So far, these experiments have only been performed in mice, but their sperm count was reduced by 90 percent and the motility of the remaining sperm was reduced by 75 percent.  When male mice are on this treatment, they are essentially sterile. 

Furthermore, there were no observable side effects; in fact, testosterone levels remained the same. And when JQ1 treatment was stopped, sperm development and fertility returned to normal. Currently, JQ1 is injected, so an oral pill form would need to be developed for widespread acceptance. The next step is to begin clinical trials to test safety, efficacy, and long-term effects in humans.

While this treatment requires further research, in the future it may take some of the pressure to swallow “the pill” off women, especially since female birth control comes with its own set of side effects and long-term health issues. A male birth control pill may even shift the responsibility to prevent pregnancy and take an active role in family planning to men, which may then be met with a sigh of relief from the other half of the population.

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