The Endocrine SocietyFructose is known to be widely used as high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and processed foods and an expansive rise in obesity is often blamed on fructose. A recent study has revealed that children’s fat cells mature when fructose is present. It stimulates more of these cells to grow into fat cells in belly fat and reduces the capability to respond to insulin for both fat located in the belly and below the skin.

Abdominal obesity is often defined by a large waistline and is known to increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The abdominal activity contains two types of fat namely visceral fat and subcutaneous fat that is found below the surface of the skin. Fructose had varying effects as compared to glucose and stimulated the fat cells to separate more and form more fat cells only in visceral fat.

Lead author Georgina Coade, a PhD student at the University of Bristol in the U.K comments, “Our results suggest that high levels of fructose, which may result from eating a diet high in fructose, throughout childhood may lead to an increase in visceral (abdominal) obesity, which is associated with increased cardiometabolic risk”.

Previous studies have shown negative effects of fructose on the fat distribution of rodents however this effect on human fat cells is not clear. Therefore experts observed 32 healthy weight children who had not undergone puberty. It included biopsy specimens of both subcutaneous and visceral fat.

The experts observed preadipocytes are the precursor to fat cells and they have the capability to differentiate or grow into fat that contains adipocytes. They then permitted the cells to progress for 14 days in culture media that contained normal glucose, high glucose or high fructose. Experts considered activity of an enzyme and the abundance of the adipocyte fatty acid binding protein in order to examine cell differentiation. Both of these are present in mature fat cells.

Insulin sensitivity is the ability to successfully take up glucose from the bloodstream into fat and muscles. This was lowered due to maturation in fructose for both types of fat cells. Lowered insulin sensitivity is a feature of type 2 diabetes.

Experts observed that continuous exposure to fructose had a negative impact on insulin sensitivity. However when Coade and her co-workers exposed mature cells rather than preadipocytes to fructose for 48 hours they observed that insulin sensitivity increased. The main reason for this effect is not clear though Coade shares that fructose has the capability to modify the behavior of human fat cells if it is present as the fat cells mature. The timing may be compared to periods in children when they are developing their fat.

These results were presented at The Endocrine Society’s 92nd Annual Meeting in San Diego.