In a laboratory study of commonly consumed carbonated beverages, the scientists found that drinks containing the syrup had high levels of reactive compounds that have been shown by others to have the potential to trigger cell and tissue damage that could cause the disease, which is at epidemic levels.
The findings were reported last week at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
HFCS is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including non-diet soda, baked goods, and condiments. It is has become the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because it is cheaper, sweeter and more easy to blend into beverages than table sugar.
Some researchers have suggested that high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to an increased risk of diabetes as well as obesity, a claim which the food industry disputes.
In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., conducted chemical tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS. He found "astonishingly high" levels of reactive carbonyls in those beverages.
Carbonyls are undesirable and highly-reactive compounds associated with “unbound” fructose and glucose molecules are believed to cause tissue damage, said Ho, a professor of food science at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
By contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose and glucose components are “bound” and chemically stable, the researcher noted.
Reactive carbonyls also are elevated in the blood of individuals with diabetes and linked to the complications of that disease. Based on the study data, Ho estimates that a single can of soda contains about five times the concentration of reactive carbonyls than the concentration found in the blood of an adult person with diabetes.
Ho and his associates also found that adding tea components to drinks containing HFCS may help lower the levels of reactive carbonyls.
The scientists found that adding epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a compound in tea, significantly reduced the levels of reactive carbonyl species when added to the carbonated soft drinks studied. In some cases, the levels of reactive carbonyls were reduced by half, the researchers say.
“People consume too much high-fructose corn syrup in this country,” said Ho, in a news release. “It’s in way too many food and drink products and there’s growing evidence that it’s bad for you.”
The tea-derived supplement provides a promising way to counter its potentially toxic effects, especially in children who consume a lot of carbonated beverages, he said.
Although eliminating or reducing consumption of HFCS is preferable, the researchers are currently exploring the chemical mechanisms by which tea appears to neutralize the reactivity of the syrup.