Substances like alcohol are regulated according to four criteria. For a government to take that big step on behalf of its citizens, a substance must:
1. Be ubiquitous
2. Be toxic
3. Be addictive
4. Have a negative impact on society
There is, according to Robert Lustig, a substance that fits the bill times four -- save for the fact that it is not currently regulated. And that is sugar. Specifically, fructose. In a conversation with The Atlantic's Corby Kummer at the Aspen Ideas Festival today, Lustig -- a pediatric endocrinologist who doubles as a sugar detractor -- made the case.
Sugar, Lustig noted, is obviously ubiquitous. It has an obvious negative impact on society, given the obesity and diabetes epidemics that have caused so much anxiety in the United States. Sugar is also, Lustig argued, toxic: the mitochondria in our bodies' cells, he said, are unable to convert the excess fructose we eat into energy, so they convert it instead into liver fat. That in turn starts a cascade, causing the insulin resistance that can lead to chronic metabolic disease -- which can lead in turn to diabetes, heart disease, and possibly cancer. A study that Lustig and his colleagues conducted, which was published in the journal PLoS this February, suggested that diabetes is caused not by obesity, as is sometimes thought, but by sugar itself. Even the scientist who won the 1923 Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin warned that high sugar consumption could be linked to diabetes. As Lustig put it during the talk, "25 percent of all the [Type 2] diabetes in the world is explained by sugar and sugar alone."