Study Challenges 'Safe' Levels of Sugar Consumption

Americans should be aware that sugars subtly creep into their diets through fruit juices, caffeinated beverages, sweetened breakfast foods, and especially sodas. They can, and do, add up.

This article originally appeared in RealClearScience. Read the original here


By now, we are all likely aware of the harms posed by eating a lot of sugary foods. One simply cannot lead a life laden with desserts, sodas, and sweets and expect to be healthy. 

But what, if, like approximately 13 to 25% of Americans, you maintain a healthy diet but indulge in, say, a donut for breakfast, with a grande Starbucks mocha frappuccino later on, and perhaps a 20-ounce soda in the afternoon? That's okay right?

Maybe not. In a new study published in Nature Communications, researchers at the University of Utah have found that comparatively modest levels of sugar consumption in mice can increase female mortality and hinder males' ability to compete.

Beginning at weaning, 156 house mice were fed two different diets. Half were given a diet composed of 25% sugars that was otherwise quite nutritive and healthy. The other mice were fed an identical diet except the sugars were replaced with cornstarch and a very small amount of fiber. After 26 weeks, both sets of mice were divided up equally and placed in six different large enclosures. While in the enclosures, all mice were fed the 25% sugar diet.

For 32 weeks, the researchers observed mouse life in the enclosures. Male house mice are very territorial, and compete for food, mates, and nest sites. The researchers used tracking tags to determine males' territory size and conducted periodical "pup counts" to gauge male and female reproductive success.  

Overall, male mice fed the sugary diet controlled 26% fewer territories and sired 25% fewer offspring. Even worse, females on the sugary diet suffered a death rate twice as high as their counterparts on the normal diet!

"The increased rates of mortality and decreased reproduction observed in this study represent the lowest level of added sugar consumption shown to adversely affect mammalian health," the researchers say.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, female mice on the sugary diet gave birth to many more offspring than their normal diet counterparts through twenty weeks of the study, possibly because they had higher fat stores, and thus more energy reserves to be used for lactation and gestation. However, after twenty weeks, their reproductive success sharply declined, and their mortality rates skyrocketed. Thus, looking at the entire duration of the study, females on the two diets had similar levels of reproductive success.

What, if anything, can this research tell us about ourselves? It doesn't appear that there's much to glean on the physiological level. Differences in key measurements of body mass, plasma glucose, insulin, and triglyceride concentrations between the sugar and control mice groups were insignificant. Cholesterol levels were slightly elevated, however. One possible explanation for this dearth of bodily evidence is that 32-weeks is simply not enough time to show significant physiological changes. For humans habitually consuming a moderately sugary diet, deleterious physiological effects may be more pronounced over time. Still, given the data, the researchers couldn't pinpoint a precise mechanism for the drop in fitness and elevation in mortality among sugar-fed mice, making the findings difficult to transfer to humans 

The researchers compared the sugary mouse diet to that of a human drinking three cans of soda per day whilst eating an otherwise healthy diet. For reference, those three cans of soda are equal to consuming roughly 125 grams of sugar per day, which is about 1.83 20-ounce sodas or 3.3 tall (12-ounce) mocha frappuccinos from Starbucks. 

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that most Americans are not consuming this much sugar. From 2005 to 2010, approximately 13% of the average American diet came from added sugars like high fructose corn syrup and molasses, well below the 25% level that the mice consumed in the study.

Still, the current research -- though limited in scope -- is a cautionary tale. While the occasional treat or dessert is something to be relished, not feared, Americans should be aware that sugars subtly creep into their diets through fruit juices, caffeinated beverages, sweetened breakfast foods, and especially sodas. They can, and do, add up.

Source: Ruff, J. S. et al. Human-relevant Levels of Added Sugar Consumption Increase Female Mortality and Lower Male Fitness in Mice. Nat. Commun. 4:2245 doi: 10.1038/ncomms3245 (2013).


(Image: Mouse Enclosures via Douglas H. Cornwall, University of Utah)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.