Scientists Say Sugar Should Be Treated Like Alcohol

In April of 2011, Robert Lustig was featured in a New York Times article as leading the charge that sugar, in the quantities we are consuming it, is toxic. He is a neuroendocrinology professor at UCSF, and his theory is that the amount of fructose we get from the excessive quantities of sugar we eat (sugar is half fructose) wreaks havoc on various systems in our bodies, most notably the cardiovascular and endocrine ones. This in turn is responsible for the Western epidemic of heart disease (the leading cause of death), diabetes (7th leading cause of death) and some cancers (2nd leading cause of death). To bolster his theory, in late 2011, a study verified that eating a lot of sugar causes heart disease even in thin people.

Robert Lustig


A couple of weeks ago, Lustig and two other scientists from UCSF wrote an opinion piece in Nature (paid subscription required — Time has a good synopsis) arguing that sugar is dangerous enough that it should be regulated like alcohol: sale to minors should be curbed, a sin tax should be enacted, and vendors should be licensed for the sale of sugar.

It’s an unfortunate habit that America has gotten into:

  1. Discover something is bad
  2. Ban or regulate it
  3. Problem solved

It definitely worked with the War on Drugs. But consuming half a cup (1/4lb) of sugar a day is also an unfortunate habit America has gotten into it. Of course, turning to the nanny state because we have no sense of personal responsibility is not the answer to kicking that habit. Education, however, is a good answer, and for example, is probably the sole reason smoking rates are half of what they were 50 years ago: no one ever quit because smoking was too expensive, just like no one ever gave up heroin because they ran out of money.

Morgan Spurlock ate over 30lbs of sugar while filming Supersize Me


People quit or cut back because most humans want to live as long as possible; and the ones that don’t care if they die tomorrow, that’s their prerogative as members of a free society. But while their political recommendations may be misguided, the scientists’ hearts are certainly in the right place: sugar is bad news, and it’s time to quit.

And if you’re still on the fence about the science, Lustig has a good hour and a half lecture on YouTube. It’s been viewed 2 million times.

See also:

From Nature, via Time


  1. Bloomberg Is Banning Giant Sodas In NYC | Apt46 - pingback on May 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm
  2. More Evidence For The Toxicity Of Sugar | Apartment 46 - pingback on December 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm