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By Liz Wallis for Turmeric Life

This article is not directly related to the use of turmeric. But we frequently have to counter suggestions that people sweeten their golden paste or add honey or other sugars to beverages along with golden paste. We explain that honey is a combination of sugars in a water solution, and is not an appropriate food other than as an occasional sweetener. We also point out that simple sugars in general provoke inflammation and are best avoided except for occasional small amounts.

As one would expect, we get some pushback on this. Some people claim that the sugars in honey (or maple syrup or some other sweeteners) are somehow different from table sugar. In fact, in a Facebook group where I’m a member, people are being told that some sugars “spin” to the left and others to the right, and that the left-spinning sugars (which supposedly include honey and maple sugar) are the only “natural” ones and are therefore fine to use as sweeteners. The creator of this notion claims that the body can absorb only left-spinning molecules (which are allegedly created in nature rather than by mankind), and that right-spinning molecules are evil, wicked, genetically modified and cancer-causing (or cancer-feeding, take your pick).

I have one word for this: HOGWASH.

It is true that sugars (and also amino acids) display a variation in form that’s often described as left-handed and right-handed. The term for this is “chirality.” It essentially means that the two forms are mirror images of each other. The two forms are called the isomers, or enantiomers, of the substance. The image below shows a specific way to illustrate the chemical formula for D-glucose, one of the primary sugars in our bodies, and L-glucose, a sugar which can be created in the laboratory, but is not found in nature. If you look at them closely, you’ll see that they are mirror images of each other. (These are called Fischer projections, for anyone who’s interested in the technical end of it.) And by the way, the designations D and L come from the Latin prefixes for right (‘dextro’) and left (‘levo’).
Diagrams used with permission from one of the most useful sites on the internet, Master Organic Chemistry, (http://www.masterorganicchemistry.com). If you have any interest in the subject, please do check them out. It's a great way to get started or to use as a refresher. If you're a current student of organic chemistry, they have a great (and amazingly inexpensive) series of study guides.
Left or right-handedness is sometimes confused with how polarized light is deflected (to the left or to the right) when it’s passed through a chiral solution. This phenomenon is called “optical chirality” and isn’t directly connected with how dextrorotatory (D) or levorotatory (L) compounds are found in nature or used in the body. The D- and L- designation refer to the actual conformation of the molecule—how its outlying structures relate to its center, not how a plane of polarized light is deflected when it passes through a solution of that compound. They are often the same, but not always. You’ll see many websites that interpret chirality only in its optical sense. Those websites aren’t necessarily incorrect, but they don’t relate to the use of D- or L- compounds in the body.

So yes, left and right-handedness does exist in nature. Unfortunately, some people have taken these basic facts and twisted them into a whole cult of misinformation, which is being spread around the internet at the usual speed of claptrap dissemination.

For example, one Dr. Tony Jiminez claims that the body can only absorb left-spinning molecules, but that cancer cells can only absorb right-spinning molecules. It’s truly disconcerting to see an MD spout such nonsense. The fact that he has those initials behind his name makes him seem like an authority on the subject. He is not, as any beginning student of biochemistry could tell you.

To begin with, all the sugars used in the human body are D-sugars (“right-spinning,” in other words). Both the fructose and the glucose in honey are D-sugars.

At least one proponent of these crackpot ideas claims that the fructose in fruits, honey, maple syrup and molasses aren’t actually used in the body, so it’s safe to consume as much as you want, because they are eliminated unused. Again, this is simply not true. They are not eliminated—they are metabolized and used in the body.

Fructose, for example, is metabolized almost entirely in the liver, where about 1% is converted to triglycerides, roughly 25-50% of it is converted to glucose, and the rest is converted to lactate (another sugar) and glycogen (a polysaccharide that stores sugar in the body in the form of glucose). Fructose is a necessary part of the body’s metabolism. The issue with fructose is not whether it’s intrinsically good, bad or indifferent. The problem is whether it’s consumed in larger amounts than the body can appropriately use.

The most common sugars other than fructose are glucose, sucrose (a disaccharide formed of glucose and fructose), mannose (which is produced in the human body itself), lactose (another disaccharide formed from glucose and galactose—it’s the so-called “milk sugar” produced in the mammalian body), and D-ribose (the very backbone of our existence, literally—it’s the backbone of DNA). There are others, but most are combinations of glucose and another sugar. So the claim that the body can only use left-spinning molecules is so much nonsense. Our bodies are built around D-sugars (“right-spinning,” if one insists on that nomenclature).

What about the claim that cancer cells can only consume D-sugars? That’s correct. It’s also the case for all the other cells in the body, cancerous or not. In fact, one interesting study suggested that the sugar mannose (which is present as “right-spinning” D-mannose) may help to thwart the growth of cancer cells.
I’ve also seen the claim that GMO-sugar (such as sugar from beets) is a “right-spinning” sugar. Yep. Just like all the non-genetically-modified sugars. That doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant whether or not they’re from genetically modified sources. But that has nothing to do with whether they are dextrorotatory or levorotatory.
It is true that an L- sugar (levorotatory) would be eliminated, as far as we can tell, without being metabolized. But L-sugars must be created in the laboratory--they do not exist in nature. So far, only one has been created that may eventually have commercial value, a sugar called L-tagatose. A patent was granted in 1991 and plants were built in both Italy and South Korea to produce it. In spite of that, L-tagatose has not made it to commercial production yet (late 2019) and there is no good evidence that it’s going to do so. This is not the tagatose which is found in some sugar products, by the way. That is D-tagatose, which has about 92% the perceived sweetness of sugar but with a very low glycemic index. But as is true for all D- sugars, it definitely is metabolized in the body, not just excreted unused.

Ironically, this “left-spinning sugar” (L-tagatose) would fall in the category of a highly refined (and therefore undesirable) sugar in Dr. Jiminez’s eyes and those of his followers. But it surely is a levorotatory molecule.

So it's important ask questions. If someone says with a straight face that only certain things are good for you or bad for you, demand to know why. Make them explain. Don’t be put off with authoritative mannerisms or alleged credentials or anything else they may toss out to avoid giving you a plain explanation. The details may be more technical than most people are interested in, but anyone who claims to be an authority should be able to present their material in such a way that the ordinary person on the street can comprehend it. There may be some new concepts to learn and you may have to do more study and/or questioning before you have it firmly in your own head. But if the person who’s making the claims can’t explain it in terms you can understand, then there is something wrong with their claims.