The Real Reason You Should Avoid High-Fructose Corn Syrup in Pregnancy

Stay away from it as often as possible—here's why.

 Pregnant Woman Binging on Donuts CREATISTA/Shutterstock
Eating foods with high-fructose corn syrup during pregnancy can lead to some truly scary consequences, according to a new study.

The research comes from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and finds several ways in which too much fructose consumption during pregnancy can affect a fetus, including putting the baby at increased risk for metabolic health issues later in life. It can also restrict fetal growth and cause defects in the placenta.

Here's the interesting thing: We tend to think of fructose as the healthier alternative to added sugar, as fructose is a sugar that occurs naturally in things like fruit and honey. With that being said, manufacturers are processing and adding it to food and drinks in the form of high fructose corn syrup—and according to researchers, these refined sugars account for more than half of all sweeteners in the U.S. food-supply chain. This means that as a society, we're eating way too much of the stuff—and high fructose corn syrup has been linked to diabetes and obesity, in addition to the concerns raised by this particular study.

"Since the early 1970s, we've been eating more fructose than we should," Kelle H. Moley, M.D., the study's senior author said. "It is becoming increasingly critical to understand how fructose consumption is impacting human health. This study shows potentially negative effects of a high-fructose diet during pregnancy."

Here's why fructose might be particularly problematic: It's processed differently by the body than other sugars, like glucose, which the body turns into energy. Liver cells turns fructose into a form of fat called triglycerides and drive high levels of uric acid, which can in turn lead to metabolic issues, diabetes and obesity. Researchers found high levels of uric acid in the mice who were fed high-fructose diets—additionally, these mice produced smaller fetuses and larger placentas than the other mice observed.

According to the study, maternal health can suffer at the hands of a high-fructose diet as well—these elevated levels of uric acid can up a woman's odds of developing pregnancy complications like preeclampsia

But there's an upside. Researchers found that when they gave the mice allopurinol, which is a drug used to treat gout and kidney stones, the effects of the high-fructose diet seemed to go down. With this in mind, researchers may soon be able to implement a screening and treatment plan for pregnant women with high fructose levels. But while we await this, the researchers have one strong piece of advice: "One of the best ways to ensure healthy maternal and fetal outcomes is by eating natural foods," Dr. Moley said.