Children who consume a lot of high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and processed foods as they’re growing up may run the risk of turning many of their fat cells into belly fat when they reach adulthood.
That is the conclusion of a research team from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom that took fat from 32 prepubescent children and subjected it to prolonged exposure to fructose.
Two fats were involved: subcutaneous fat, found under the skin, and visceral fat. The latter is the fat found in the abdominal cavity that, if there is too much of it, leads to “visceral obesity”-aka “beer belly.”
From the biopsy samples the scientists extracted preadipocytes, “precursor” cells that have the potential to become the mature fat cells called adipocytes. They placed half of the cells in a culture medium that had the normal glucose found in the human bloodstream and put the other half in a high-fructose medium. The object was to see how the two different sugars affected the rate of maturation and the proportion of subcutaneous fat to visceral fat.
After 14 days, when researchers looked to see how many of the cells had matured into adipocytes, they found that not only had the fructose caused more precursor cells to mature in total, but also that all of those cells were visceral fat.
Based on that finding, the team concluded that a high-fructose diet in childhood, as children’s preadipocytes cells are beginning to mature, can lead to visceral obesity in adulthood. The condition is associated with insulin resistance, which is both a precursor to and a component of type 2 diabetes.
Ironically, when the researchers took fully mature fat cells, both visceral and subcutaneous, and placed them in a fructose medium for 48 hours, both types of cells increased their insulin sensitivity.