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Research finds high fructose corn syrup can trigger addiction

Saturday - 6/8/2013, 8:53am  ET

WASHINGTON - New research reportedly shows that high fructose corn syrup can trigger behavior similar to the actions accompanying a drug habit.

Research by Dr. Francesco Leri, an neuroscience professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, showed that lab rats self-dosing on the sweetener behaved like other rats dosing on cocaine, according to Citizens for Health, a nonprofit consumer group involved in health activism.

"It showed that the brain activity for high fructose corn syrup mimicked the brain activity of certain addictive substances," says Jim Turner, the group's board chairman.

Leri studied the changes in lab rats caused by eating foods containing high levels of sugar, fats and taste enhancers like the syrup. His tests reportedly included allowing lab animals to press a lever to receive doses of high fructose corn syrup.

The sweeter the sweetener, the more the animals tried to get it.

"As we increased the percentage (of fructose) in the solution, the animals continued to prefer the higher concentrations, and worked harder and harder for each infusion ... which is exactly what you notice with drug abuse," Leri says.

High fructose corn syrup has been blamed as a culprit in the United States' obesity epidemic, and for other health problems like diabetes.

However, the Corn Refiners Association says such claims are overblown.

"In recent years, HFCS has been singled out in the media as the main cause of obesity and other health problems even though there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support such allegations," the association says on the website SweetSurprise.com.

According to Turner, every soft drink on the market contains the sweetener. The Food and Drug Administration approves of fructose content below 55 percent, but he says that limit is not always followed.

"The industry is now acknowledging they've been selling products that are as high as 90 percent fructose," Turner says.

Turner says HFCS has been moving into the market for more than 30 years, with levels of the substance increasing.

Leri says individual factors may play a role in whether a person becomes addicted to food, just like with drugs. His findings reportedly were presented at the 2013 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting.

Read more about Leri's research here.

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