HMF – One More Reason to Avoid High-Fructose Corn Syrup

The list of hazards associated with high-fructose corn syrup continues to grow. The refined liquid sweetener found in soft drinks, candy and countless foods in our food supply has been implicated in obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Earlier this year, mercury, a metal toxic to human health, was found in close to half of tested samples of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and nearly one-third of tested foods with HFCS in its top ingredients. (See the Nutrition News & Notes story on that.) Now new research shows that when HFCS is heated, it forms hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a chemical that can kill honey bees and is linked to DNA damage in humans.

Honey bees play an important part in food production because they pollinate roughly one-third of all the crops we eat, and scientists have been trying to understand why one-third of the honey bee population in the United States has mysteriously died in recent years. Although honey bees produce honey, some commercial beekeepers feed HFCS to bees to increase reproduction and honey production. Researchers from the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Tucson, Arizona, with other researchers in New Orleans and the University of Wisconsin have discovered that when HFCS is heated or exposed to warm temperatures, HFCS can form HMF, which can kill honey bees. Some researchers now believe that HMF may be a contributing factor in Colony Collapse Disorder, the mysterious disease that has been killing the bees.

“Because HFCS is incorporated as a sweetener in many processed foods, the data from this study are important for human health as well,” the study’s authors wrote. HFCS may be subjected to warmer-than-normal temperatures during processing, it can be stored and transported in hot conditions (think of transporting HFCS in a tanker trunk on a hot summer day), and once it’s added to food items that manufacturers make, it’s often cooked again. The more temperatures rise, levels of HMF increase steadily, and they jump dramatically at about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the research.

Not only has research linked HMF to DNA damage in humans, it also indicates that when HMF breaks down in the body, it breaks down into substances that may be even more harmful than HMF.


American Chemical Society (2009, August 27). Heat Forms Potentially Harmful Substance in High-fructose Corn Syrup, Bee Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2009 from a Science Daily release.

LeBlanc et al. Formation of Hydroxymethylfurfural in Domestic High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Its Toxicity to the Honey Bee (Apis melliflora). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009; 57 (16): 7369 DOI: 10.1021/jf9014526.

Melissa’s Comments:

Do you need any more reasons to go out of your way to avoid high-fructose corn syrup in the foods you eat? High-fructose corn syrup is one of the worst “food” products ever created by man. It was developed simply because the farm subsidy program in the U.S. changed, producing mountains and mountains of cheap corn, and food manufacturers had to figure out something to do with all that corn. (To read more about how HFCS is actually created – here’s a hint: with a lot of chemicals – read “The Murky World of High-Fructose Corn Syrup.”)

Food manfucturers created HFCS, gradually began putting it in the vast majority of foods and drinks we consume, and making outrageous profits from creating a substance that not only is terrible for our health but also is deadly to bees, which we rely on for much of our food production. You may not appreciate how important it is that we have healthy bees pollinating many plant foods that we eat. But the more the bee population dies off, the more food prices will go up, and if the bees went away altogether, we’d be facing a disastrous collapse in food production.

Many people say that HFCS is not meaningfully different from other combination fructose-glucose sweeteners like honey, sugar, and fruit juice concentrates. But that’s simply not true. The evidence keeps piling up from many fronts for us to take a stand, carefully read all labels, and avoid all foods and drinks that contain any high-fructose corn syrup. For gosh sake, don’t buy candy with HFCS to give out to kids during Halloween and the rest of the holidays. Every time you buy something with HFCS in it, you’re putting more money in the pockets of agribusiness food manufacturers and hurting you or the kids you feed it to. By continuing to buy the junk, you’re also hurting the bees that help us and, over the long term, hurting your own pocketbook. If we all stand together and strictly avoid HFCS, maybe we can create a movement where HFCS is wiped off the planet instead of the bees.

Copyright © 2009 Melissa Diane Smith

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