Fructose & Survival

While so much is written these days calling attention to the significant threat posed by fructose on our metabolic health, it’s important to put this into historical context. As we look back in time, it is revealed that the consumption of fructose, a sugar found in fruits, was a powerful survival tool. Our hominid and primate ancestors would typically encounter fructose-containing foods in the late summer and early fall when fruit ripened. Ripened fruit triggered our long-standing sweet tooth, which, in and of itself, was an important part of our survival hard wiring.

Sweet foods told our physiology two important things. Firstly, that this is a food that is safe. Generally, in nature, anything that is sweet isn’t threatening. The second thing that foods containing fructose would tell our ancestors was that winter was coming. Fructose triggered the physiology of our ancestors as well as each and every one of us to make fat, store fat, increase blood sugar production, and reduce the metabolic rate, all factoring in to keep us alive during times of food scarcity.

The effects of fructose on our physiology are profound and served us well. In fact, so powerful is this effect that our bodies harness this activity even when we don’t consume fructose, again as an important survival mechanism for time of food or water scarcity. In the absence of dietary fructose, when the human body senses various stresses like dehydration or hypoxia, we actually create fructose and activate all the downstream survival mechanisms like making fat, increasing blood pressure and raising blood sugar. Yes, our bodies can create fructose from glucose through the polyol pathway. And while being able to name the pathway isn’t likely to serve you to any great degree, knowing what activates this pathway has profound implications.

Yes, we get that fructose consumption opens the door to metabolic mayhem, but now we learn how our bodies create fructose, and most importantly how this turns on the production of the very threatening metabolite, uric acid. Further, uric acid itself amplifies the very production of its own precursor – fructose! It’s not a pretty picture, but understanding how this all comes together brings empowering new tools to bear in our efforts to regain control over our metabolic destiny.

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