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High sugar diets can shorten life expectancy

Researchers say obesity isn’t to blame in some cases

Photo (c) belchonock - Getty Images
Though researchers have found that consumers are most likely to pass on foods high in sugar when trying to make healthy choices, a new study has explored the risks associated with high sugar intake. 

In a study conducted on fruit flies, the researchers learned that diets high in sugar can shorten life expectancy, but not because of obesity. Though metabolic issues are a concern, the researchers learned that too much sugar causes an increase in uric acid, which can lead to several other health issues. 

“Just like humans, flies fed a high-sugar diet show many hallmarks of metabolic disease -- for instance, they become fat and insulin resistant,” said researcher Dr. Helena Cochemé. “Obesity and diabetes are known to increase mortality in humans, and so people always assumed that this was how excess sugar is damaging for survival in flies.” 

Limiting sugar intake

The researchers conducted their study on fruit flies, keeping them on a high-sugar diet for the duration of the study. As Dr. Cochemé explained, the flies responded as expected to the excess sugar, though there were some interesting discoveries. 

They found that even though the flies had gained weight and were showing early signs of diabetes, they also started developing higher levels of uric acid. The researchers explained that a build-up of uric acid can increase the risk for kidney stones and gout, as the molecule is typically responsible for flushing out toxins in the body. 

Though that is certainly cause for concern, the study also revealed that having an adequate water supply helped the flies combat the uric acid build-up and boost their health overall. 

“Water is vital for our health, yet its importance is often overlooked in metabolic studies,” said Dr. Cochemé. “Therefore, we were surprised that flies fed a high-sugar diet did not show a reduced lifespan, simply by providing them with an extra source of water to drink. Unexpectedly, we found that these flies still exhibited the typical metabolic defects associated with high dietary sugar.” 

Even though water helped the flies, the researchers explained that they were still unhealthy because of the high sugar consumption; the results showcase how important it is for consumers to limit their sugar intake.

“There is substantial evidence that what we eat influences our life expectancy and our risk for age-related diseases. By focusing on the purine pathway, our group hopes to find new therapeutic targets and strategies that promote healthy ageing.” said Dr. Cochemé.

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