Posted by: lemonator | January 26, 2009

Sugar Destroys your Genes! THATS NOT SCIENCE!

Lemonator here with another edition of THATS NOT SCIENCE, where the science is good (and in this case, very interesting), but the journalistic interpretation is… dangerously bad.

Today’s article appears courtesy of Yahoo news. 

Genes Remember Sugar Hit

Its pretty short, so I’ll just copy it on over. (From Jan. 16th)

SYDNEY (AFP) – Human genes remember a sugar hit for two weeks, with prolonged poor eating habits capable of permanently altering DNA, Australian research has found.
A team studying the impact of diet on human heart tissue and mice found that cells showed the effects of a one-off sugar hit for a fortnight, by switching off genetic controls designed to protect the body against diabetes and heart disease.
“We now know that chocolate bar you had this morning can have very acute effects, and those effects can continue for up to two weeks,” said lead researcher Sam El-Osta, from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.
“These changes continue beyond the meal itself and have the ability to alter natural metabolic responses to diet,” he told Australian Associated Press Friday.
Regular poor eating would amplify the effect, said El-Osta, with genetic damage lasting months or years, and potentially passing through bloodlines.
The study’s findings were reported in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

So, what are we to glean from this journal article?  It says that a single binge of sugar leads to two weeks of disabled genetic controls.

The lead researcher makes a dire claim:  If you ate a chocolate bar this morning… your body will be in a disastrous state for two entire weeks.  Danger, Danger!

We then see that regular poor eating will actually lead to gene DAMAGE, which might get passed down through bloodlines.  Scary stuff.  But it got me to thinking… gene ‘damage’?  how do we define ‘damage’?  I saw that there was a mini-citation (good job, journalists!) at the bottom, so… I looked it up.  I think the article is public access, so… I’m going to link it and hope for the best.

Original Article (This one’s a bit too big to copy)

The article… tells a slightly different story, namely that of a few genes and some epigenetic modifications to the promoter regions that regulate when the gene is active and not (check my first THATS NOT SCIENCE for a talk about epigenetics)

It talks about how, as it turns out, yes, a large dose of sugar will cause a temporary shift in which genes in your body are turned on and off, and yes, the genes that get modified *are* ones which have been implicated in weight gain/diabetes/etc… but this makes sense… as the two are somewhat intertwined (sugar intake and diabetes, etc…).  I’m not sure where the article gets the idea that somehow a single dose of sugar is causing all these problems, but yes, obviously prolonged exposure to sugar causes the cells to alter their behavior to match (almost like… say, Mithridates of Pontus ingesting small amounts of poison daily until he became immune to its effects (hmm… pleasant similarity…)(Interesting note:  when Mithridates’ kingdom was invaded by Pompey, he tried to kill himself with poison, and discovered he was unable to do so, and instead was killed by enemy soldiers… err… back to science…) 

The researchers DO show evidence that prolonged exposure to high levels of sugar do lead to near permanent levels of epigenetic changes to the genes in question… not gene damage, per say, just permanent reassignment.  However, most epigenetic markers are erased during embryonic development, so the idea of this gene ‘damage’ getting passed down through the bloodline is… farfetched.  Its far more likely, in fact, that a major culprit for hereditary obesity is, in fact, the bacterial culture in your stomach, which do show marked differences between obese and normal-weight individuals (look for a ‘that IS science’ coming soon!)



  1. Interesting!

  2. now get me to stop craving sugar/sweets, and we’ll be all set 🙂

  3. Oh, thanks for sharing!

  4. Well, I guess the take home message is, as we all know, that binging on sugar is not a good idea… eating a normal diet with reasonable amounts (this is why the ‘one chocolate bar this morning’ comment is so… wrong) of sugar is perfectly fine 🙂

  5. any scary articles on sugar are a good read for me 🙂

  6. I am pretty sure this is what scares people into eating low fat cookies.

  7. Who publishes these articles?!

  8. Sadly, the AP does :\

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