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Dangers of high sugar content in the national diet

Dr Naila Rabbani of Warwick Medical School and Professor Paul J Thornalley of Warwick Medical School and Warwick Systems Biology Centre have recently been researching a particular component of sugar metabolism that is detrimental to health. Here they comment on the recent media attention on the sugar content of the UK population diet.

"This has been stimulated by publication of the UK government Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a committee of independent experts that advises the Government on nutrition issues, a report on Carbohydrates and Health and also the World Health Organisation report on Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and Children. In light of recent concerns on the association of decline in health and high intake of free sugars* (for example, glucose, sucrose and fructose) – particularly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, both WHO and SACN recommended to decrease the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake. Free sugar is currently about 15% of total energy intake in children and adolescents.

"SACN states that whilst there is no link of total dietary intake of carbohydrates to decline in health, specific components of carbohydrates are associated with more detrimental health effects. On sugars and sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, they state that for developing type 2 diabetes “a greater risk is associated with a higher intake of sugars-sweetened beverages.”

"Research conducted by our research team at Warwick has focussed on a particular component of sugar metabolism that is detrimental to health – formation of the glucose-derived metabolite methylglyoxal (MG). This is now coming to the fore. Increased MG accumulation with a high energy intake diet is a driver of insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes, and also damages blood vessels and impairs handling of cholesterol associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In our body, the defender against MG health impairment is an enzyme called glyoxalase 1 (Glo1) of the glyoxalase metabolic pathway. In 2010, the team discovered how to increase Glo1 in the body and help protect against the threat of sugar component MG and associated increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Trace dietary compounds can help. Certain compounds in fruits and vegetables can increase our levels of Glo1 – an effect we called “Glo1 inducer”. Research is leading to supplements of Glo1 inducers to create healthier foods and help counter the increased risk of diabetes and possibly heart disease with a diet of high free sugar intake. Glo1 inducer supplemented foods, together with the new guidelines for decreased free sugar intake, may help keep the potentially damaging effects of free sugars in check."

*WHO definition, adopted by SACN: monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. This excludes lactose in milk.

Notes to Editors

Contact Nicola Jones, Interim Communications Manager, University of Warwick,, 02476 150868, 07824 540863.

Nicola Jones

Interim Communications Manager
University of Warwick
tel: +44 (0)2476 150868 or +44 (0)7824 540863.