Touro University's Schwarz recognized for fructose research

By Sarah Rohrs, Vallejo Times Herald
Posted: 03/16/2012 1:41 AM

Found in everything from baby food to sodas, high-fructose corn syrup is a sweet problem a Touro University professor has been trying to solve nearly his entire career. 

The work of Touro's bio chemistry professor Jean-Marc Schwarz is capturing worldwide attention as researchers race to determine once and for all if the food additive is either benign or the bane of modern ills -- obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

For Schwarz, high-fructose corn syrup is no friend of the body; and prominent media outlets are taking note of his research. 

A British documentary filmmaker recently interviewed Schwarz for a three-part show to air this summer on BBC on changes in the U.S. food industry during the 1970s and 1980s. 

It takes a look at high fructose corn syrup and palm oil and the current controversy over their impacts.

The CBS news show "60 Minutes" also filmed Schwarz, but with research into the substance a changing field, the segment, originally slated to air this month, was cut, Touro Director of External Relations Andrea Garcia said. However, "60 Minutes" will post the Schwarz interview on its website soon, she said. 

Meanwhile, Schwarz, a native of Switzerland who's been at Touro University since 2004, continues with his laboratory research on the Mare Island campus. 

The possible link to the country's sky-rocketing obesity rates is particularly intriguing and an issue Schwarz said he wants to examine further. 

High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made by processing corn in methods that increase the level of fructose to nearly 50 percent of the total sugar, Schwarz said. 

This form of sugar is less expensive to produce than sugar derived from cane or beets, he said. Because the substance could be made so cheaply, food manufacturers began to add it to nearly everything in the 1970s, he added. 

As a student at the Lausanne University in Switzerland, Schwarz said he wrote his dissertation on how the body metabolizes fructose. 

Through his many years of research, he said he's found that ingestion of high fructose corn syrup, particularly after short bursts of overfeeding, leads to rapid development of fat cells.

"It's about the conversion of sugar to fat, and fructose is very good at that," Schwarz said, adding that in some cases the rate of the conversion is 20 percent faster than other sugars. Scientists first found the link in pigs and then determined humans process fructose in the same way, he said. 

Fructose also dramatically increases fat in the liver, a condition that can lead to liver failure, cirrhosis of the liver, and other conditions that can lead to diabetes, he said. 

One paradox of the fructose issue is that it was introduced as part of the movement to limit fats in food, Schwarz said. However, in the end, the substance actually increases fat, he added. 

"It's like a giant roller coaster or pendulum swinging the other way," he said.

Though Schwarz has amassed a great deal of information on fructose, he said more research is needed to get a better understanding of how it impacts the human body. That work takes place in a small lab and tiny test tubes in Lander Hall on the Touro campus. 

In the meantime, Schwarz recommends people limit their intake of fructose, particularly sodas, and fruit juices. Instead, they should drink unsweetened beverages and eat fresh fruit and vegetables. 

"It's a big deal," he said of fructose. "If we can help with the health of people and also with the economy. The cost of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease is going through the roof." 

Contact staff writer Sarah Rohrs at srohrs@timesheraldonline.com or (707) 553-6832. 

Jean-Marc Schwarz, PhD, a professor of biochemistry at Touro University in Vallejo, talks about his research about the effects of fructose on the liver and blood lipids. The conversion of fructose to fat in the liver is much higher than previously suspected, and creates the possibility of liver and heart-related illnesses later in life.
Jean-Marc Schwarz, PhD, a professor of biochemistry at Touro University in Vallejo, talks about his research about the effects of fructose on the liver and blood lipids. The conversion of fructose to fat in the liver is much higher than previously suspected, and creates the possibility of liver and heart-related illnesses later in life.