Hugh Daniel, a very well known hacker and cypherpunk, was found dead in his apartment a few days ago. Hugh was a terrific guy and a friend of all the world, the kind of cheerfully-larger-than-life personality that makes things a little merrier and more interesting wherever it goes. He’s going to leave a big Hugh-shaped hole in a lot of lives, including mine.
But I had a presentiment when I heard the first report of Hugh’s death, which was borne out when the first information came out about probable cause. Friends report that the coroner is fingering stroke or heart disease – but I’ve seen this movie before.
Because I’ve seen this movie before, I make a prediction. If they autopsy Hugh, they will find evidence of undiagnosed type II diabetes, non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, serious coronary plaque, and probably marginal function in the kidneys and other organs. He will present similarly to a victim of long-term, low-grade poisoning.
About three years ago, another friend of mine, a gamer named Richard Butler, died with these symptoms. The two were about the same age when they died; both physically large men with big booming voices, happily extroverted geeks with a knack for making friends wherever they went, and the kind of zest for life that can make someone seem unkillable.
And both looked prematurely aged in photographs I saw shortly before their deaths. The energy was still there, but in retrospect the body was beginning to fail.
I think I know what actually killed Hugh and Richard. I don’t think it was old age in the normal sense; neither of them was even 60, if I’m any judge. I’m sounding an alarm because I think a significant number of my peers could die the same, preventable death.
The medical establishment calls it “metabolic syndrome”. Or, sometimes, “cardiometabolic syndrome”, “insulin-resistance syndrome”, “Reuven’s syndrome” or “syndrome X”. It’s associated with hypertension, cardiac disease, obesity, and diabetes.
A significant thing about Richard and Hugh is that they were both large-framed men who carried, rather gracefully, an amount of overweight that would have looked morbid on a smaller physique.
Most doctors would observe this, shrug and say that the overweight is what killed them. And, as far as that goes, it’s probably not wrong. But I have come to believe that the actual underlying cause of such overweight and metabolic syndrome is fructose poisoning.
When I first heard that Richard had fatty cirrhotic deposits in his liver when he died, I didn’t know what that meant. A few months later I learned that this is what happens when the liver becomes overloaded with hepatotoxic compounds and secretes encapsulating fat to defend itself. Alcohol stimulates this response; so does the fructose component in sugar. If an autopsy opens Hugh’s liver, that’s what I’d bet they’ll find signs of.
The hepatic poisoning deranges half a dozen critical metabolic pathways. The secondary effects of the derangement are the whole range of metabolic-syndrome symptoms, including cardiac disease and diabetes and probably stroke as well.
People look at this and think “It’s just old age.” It isn’t. It’s almost certainly fructose poisoning. I think I’ve just lost my second friend to it. I don’t want to lose a third.
If you’re reading this, and you’re overweight, please cut the goddamn fructose out of your diet before it kills you. No more HFCS-laden sodas. No more white-sugar-from-hell desserts. You even need to back off the fruit juices; I used to drink a lot of apple juice, but don’t any more.
Watch the ingredients lists on what you eat. The liver’s ability to process fructose non-toxically is limited; nobody’s sure what the limit is and it probably varies, but most people who have looked into this think about 50g of fructose per day is the most you should risk. Sucrose (cane sugar) is 50% fructose; convert accordingly.
Becoming a no-sugar fanatic isn’t required. Whole fruit is reasonably safe because the fiber slows the fructose uptake, making it unlikely that you’ll hit your liver’s conversion limit. I have a cup of cocoa most nights, about 16g of fructose. Occasionally I treat myself to cheesecake or even baklava. The point isn’t ritual self-denial, it’s to not go over 50g a day.
Please do these things to live. And to not be fat as a whale. It’s not complicated or difficult, it just takes a little attention. And I’m tired of watching friends die needlessly.
UPDATE: I misremembered. Richard Butler wasn’t found dead, he died in a hospital.