Less sugar in obese children can reduce adult heart disease, Touro study finds

Vallejo Times Herald
By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen, Vallejo Times-Herald
Posted: 07/27/16, 3:48 PM PDT

Parents can significantly reduce their obese children’s risk of heart disease just by cutting their sugar intake, a new Touro University-lead study shows. This could have far-reaching impacts in areas like Solano County, where nearly 30 percent of children are technically obese, Touro officials said.

This latest study was done by Vallejo’s Touro University California College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Alejandro Gugliucci and UCSF, which found that cutting sugar leads to a drop in heart disease risk factors among obese children, the Vallejo osteopathic medical school’s officials said.

This study follows on the heals of one released last October conducted by Touro’s Jean Marc Schwarz and UCSF, that found the effects of fructose can be reversed.

The latest study by Gugliucci and UCSF’s Robert Lustig, shows that reducing sugar consumption in obese children leads to a sharp decline in triglycerides and ApoC-III, both of which are associated with heart disease, Touro officials said.

Gugliucci and Touro University California “are working to help reduce the number” of obese youth in Solano County which, according to a 2014 Journal of the American Medical Association study, is nearly 30 percent, they said.

“Unfortunately, obesity, diabetes and the metabolic syndrome strike harder in the Latino and African-American communities,” Gugliucci said. “What is more worrisome is that we now see those effects in children (Type 2 diabetes in children was rare 20 years ago). Kids that start with Type 2 diabetes will have cardiovascular disease early in life. This is dramatic, and research that will help prevent this cycle is much needed.”

Conventional thought is that obese children kids these problems because they eat too many calories and are lazy, but Gugliucci said he and his colleagues don’t believe that.

“It is not just the calories but how the calories are packed,” he said. “We believe calories from sugar are far worse than any other calories because they damage your liver.”

The study shows that cutting calories, or starch, or losing weight won’t reduce the risk of heart disease in adulthood as much as cutting back on sugar consumption, they said.

In a study published online July 19, and in the current issue of the journal Atherosclerosis, the Touro and UCSF researchers reported that triglycerides dropped 33 percent and ApoC-III fell 49 percent in just 10 days of sugar restriction. This expands on last year’s report in the journal Obesity, that found restricting sugar — without restricting calories or total carbs — reversed a cluster of metabolic diseases in children, including high cholesterol and blood pressure.

In both studies, 43 children between 9 and 18 were recruited from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco’s Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health clinic. Participants were obese and had at least one chronic metabolic disorder, and eligibility was limited to Latino and African-American youth, who are at higher risk for such diseases, officials said.

“Over the course of nine days, the children were provided food and beverages that mirrored the same fat, protein, carbohydrate and caloric levels as their home diets,” Touro officials said. “The difference was that sugary foods like pastries, sweetened yogurts and cake were substituted with starchy ones, like bagels, pizza and hot dogs.”

Researchers compared baseline blood levels with those taken after 10 days and found not only the significant changes in triglycerides and ApoC-III, but also the disappearance of a type of cholesterol increasingly considered a risk factor for heart disease.

Cutting back on sugar lowers two key heart disease risk factors by 30 to 50 percent, he said.

To get the same impact by weight loss alone, the child would need to lose more than one-fifth of their body weight, said Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, San Francisco.

“The blood lipid responses of these children is nothing short of astounding, and unrelated to calories or weight change,” he said. “Combined with data from the previous study demonstrating improvement in metabolic health with sugar restriction alone, we have conclusively shown that sugar calories are not like other calories. Sugar is uniquely metabolized to fat in the liver, which leads to fat accumulation in the bloodstream, driving heart disease.”

As long as the focus remains on total calories rather than on what those calories are and how they are metabolized, the obesity, diabetes and heart disease epidemics will continue, he said. “Together with community outreach plans that Touro ... is undertaking and a new Touro Metabolic Research Center on Mare Island, we plan to ... start changing the way we think about food and start curbing this epidemics which strikes disproportionately high in Solano County. If we can change kids’ health now, it will change the rest of their lives.”

Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824.