Did the Sugar Industry Withhold Decades-Old Research on Sucrose?

Fagjun | Published 2017-11-30 08:13

Researchers say that the sugar industry, in a bid to protect its own interests, hid the results of a 1967 study that discovered a connection between sucrose and heart disease as well as bladder cancer.

Sucrose can be found in many commons foods, including breakfast cereal.



Sugar makes a lot of foods taste really good, but it can also be really bad for you. In recent years, sugar has become somewhat of a persona non grata in many of the world’s kitchens. Many foods and beverages have now been marketed as low-sugar or sugar-free, and the recommended daily sugar intake has been cut in half in order to combat obesity and tooth decay.


These changes are actually relatively recent, and they’ve all been made to combat the negative effects that excess sugar has on human bodies. However, a new paper suggests that these changes would have been made sooner if the sugar industry had not made an effort to keep research on the negative health effects of sucrose under wraps.

The International Sugar Research Foundation

Why were the results of the studies kept from getting published?



During the sixties, the Sugar Research Foundation funded an animal research project that sought to look into the ways that sucrose impacts cardiovascular health. A review of the sugar industry’s internal documents revealed that the SRF may have pulled the plug on the project when it began to show that sucrose may be associated with conditions such as heart disease and bladder cancer. The results went unpublished.


The review also revealed that in 1967, the SRF secretly provided funding for research that downplayed the link between sucrose and the occurrence of heart disease. According to this 1967 research, gut microbes instead of sucrose may be the reason why sugar-fed rats have a higher cholesterol level than starch-fed rats.


Meanwhile, the team reports, 1968 saw the SRF rename itself to the ISRF, or the International Sugar Research Foundation. That same year, the ISRF launched a study on rats, with a focus on the “nutritional effects of the [bacterial] organisms in the intestinal tract” upon consumption of sucrose. The results were then compared to the results of starch consumption. This study found that sucrose may actually increase the risk of bladder cancer.


When the ISRF saw these results, they pulled their funding from the project once again, and the results above went unpublished as well.

Industry Manipulation of Science

What would our relationship with sugar be like now if the findings of those studies in the sixties had only been published?



The early termination of funding also meant that the research was unfinished, even though it only had three months left before it was accomplished. “Our study contributes to a wider body of literature documenting industry manipulation of science,” researchers write in their study on the terminated research.


“ISRF’s primary purpose was, and still is as the Sugar Association and the World Sugar Research Organisation, to sell more sucrose,” said Cristin Kearns, one of the researchers that looked into the documents from the sixties.


Researchers maintain that if these studies were finished and their results published, the public would have known about the negative health effects of sugar at a much earlier time. Meanwhile, the Sugar Association, the organization that succeeded ISRF, denies any malice in the termination of the research. The Sugar Association claims that the research was delayed and therefore over budget, and that there were plans to continue the research that for some reason never materialized. Further investigation may be necessary to ascertain the ISRF’s intentions in terminating the projects and keeping the results of the research under wraps.

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