Sugar, Part 3 - What eating sugar does to your health
Most adults know that sugar (and refined carbohydrates) aren’t good for them, although some believe it’s OK to eat it in moderation. (My response is to ask, what is moderation and have our bodies evolved to eat it this way? The answer is no.) At the same time, we consider sugar to be a reward, a treat. For others, eating sugar throughout the day has become so normalised they don’t regard it as a problem at all, or perhaps they aren’t even aware of how much hidden sugar they’re consuming.
In Blood Sugar Part 1, I described what sugar actually is (it’s more than many people think), and in Part 2, I explained blood sugar disorders. And earlier I also posted about what sugar does to children.
In this part, I delve into some of the negative impacts of blood sugar in greater detail covering health problems like insomnia, weight gain, chronic disease like cancer, hormonal problems, digestive disorders such as reflux, fatty liver disease, heart disease, early ageing and mental health issues.
Eating sugar causes chronic health problems
Eating sugar causes blood sugar regulation disorders like hypoglycaemia, hyperglycaemia, Insulin Resistance, Type 2 Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome. Other health problems it can cause include
Digestive or gut problems
Mental health issues
Compromises other normal body functions
It turns out that fat doesn’t make us fat, but sugar does. This is why sugar has been described as the new fat.
Some doctors believe that sugar or refined carbohydrates are simply calories, their only problem being that they may lead to weight gain.
In truth, sugar has a unique ability to increase weight. When blood sugar spikes after eating sugar and refined carbohydrates, our body stores the extra energy it can’t use right away as fat. This is different to if you eat a piece of fish, sweet potato or some berries where any excess energy is stored as glucose for later use.
In the case of insulin resistance, this fat develops into adipose tissues, which acts like a hormone, stimulating the appetite and further weight gain in a vicious cycle.
The natural rhythm of blood sugar regulation and sleep is that after a period of being asleep the hormone cortisol rises, prompting the body to turn proteins into glucose to feed the brain and other systems as well as replenish energy stores. But if someone has high blood sugar or is insulin resistant, the body can only extract energy from the immediate consumption of food so this system fails.
In order to get sufficient energy, the brain signals the adrenal glands to increase the output of Cortisol, sometimes waking the person in the middle of the night. Waking fully when you should be asleep is a sign of high cortisol and blood sugar issues.
Sugar is disastrous for digestion. First of all it lowers stomach acid, which means we don’t break down our food properly. This can also cause reflux or GERD because the right acidity level can’t be reached for the stomach to release the food, which putrefies there and tries to escape through reflux.
Next, in the small intestines these undigested food particles not only can’t be absorbed and used properly as nutrients by the body, but they cause leaky gut as the intestinal walls are forced open to let these extra large food particles into the blood stream. Leaky gut is a major cause of food allergies and auto-immunity because the immune system doesn’t recognise these large food particles and, believing them to be dangerous, attacks them. The immune system thus tags normal food as hostile leading to sensitivities and allergies, and eventually to autoimmune disease.
In the colon or large intestine, sugar increases bacterial growth and fermentation leading to these and other opportunistic or bad bacteria to proliferate. A yeast overgrowth know as a candidiasis infection can spread throughout the entire body resulting in wide ranging symptoms from headaches, constipation, IBS, bad breath, mood swings, memory loss, fatigue, thrush, depression, acne, sinus problems, PMS, vaginitis and bladder infections.
This can also result in an undergrowth of good bacteria, which cannot compete because it is lacking the food it needs. These under- and over-growths can lead to a multitude of health problems and create deficiencies, especially in vitamins K/B1/B2/B12 and butyric acid.
A dysfunctional digestive system, where 60% of our immune system is housed, also weakens our immunity.
Heart disease and strokes
The research supporting a link between sugar and heart disease is growing. There is evidence linking high blood sugar and insulin problems with a greater risk for heart disease.
There is also evidence that sugar is directly harmful to blood vessels and may cause atherosclerosis or a plaquing of the veins as the body attempts to strengthen weakened veins. This protective plaque is implicated in heart attacks because it narrows the arteries, and when it breaks off may cause strokes.
Sugar and refined carbs consumption has been shown to increase inflammation throughout the body. Many modern diseases can trace their roots to inflammation, including asthma, arthritis and heart disease.
Inflammation can result from digestive issues and also oxidative stress, an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to neutralise their harmful effects with antioxidants. Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are a major cause of age-related diseases and cancer.
Sugar is an anti-nutrient that robs the body of essential vitamins and nutrients. An anti-nutrient is a plant-derived substance that interferes with absorption or proper functioning of nutrients in the body.
For example, for every molecule of sugar eaten, it takes 28 of magnesium to process it. In the case of insulin resistance, the body can no longer store magnesium, which is lost through urination. The same occurs with calcium.
Eating sugar turns the body acidic. To return pH back to normal, the body pulls calcium from the bones. A diet high in sugar will eventually deplete the bones of calcium. Also, sugar depletes magnesium, which is a mineral the body needs in order to utilise calcium. Magnesium is important for sleep.
Diet related AGEs – Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) or glycated sugar proteins – trigger organ dysfunction and tissue ageing. When our tissues age (our blood, organs and bones) our body ages. I discussed this in the last sugar blog.
AGEs eventually become cross-linked and turn hard, meaning the surface of arteries, organ’s tissue, joints and cell membranes can become rigid. Apart from speeding up the ageing process, the health implications are far reaching. High levels are associated with the majority of chronic diseases seen today including heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, Alzheimer's, arthritis, kidney failure and high blood pressure and more.
Blood sugar disorders and diabetes
These are perhaps the most harmful of the diseases associated with sugar consumption. People who are diabetic have a much larger risk of kidney damage and failure, eye disease leading to blindness, heart disease and heart attacks, loss of nerve sensation and muscle weakness, heart damage and failure, stroke, clogged arteries in the legs and sometimes arms. The commonality between these diseases is the damage sugar has reeked on the blood vessels.
Sugar also damages blood vessels in people with normal blood sugar levels, so perhaps moderation isn’t so good after all.
Fatty liver disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition in which fat accumulates in the liver and triggers inflammation. It can become serious leading to scarring of the liver and cirrhosis. Causes are high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia), being overweight or obese, insulin resistance and high triglycerides (a possible result of sugar in the diet).
Sugar consumption along with refined grains is associated with the increase of breast cancer and cancers of the colon and stomach. Sugar also feeds existing cancer.
Hormones and fertility
Many hormonal problems are related to blood sugar dysregulation. Insulin resistance is a primary issue in hormonal imbalances.
In women, blood sugar disease can lead to PCOS, irregular periods, infertility, fluid retention, mood swings, adult acne and hair loss.
In men, it can result in reduced testosterone, which protects the prostate, and an increased conversion of testosterone into oestrogen (Aromatization).
Mental health issues
A large body of research suggests depression is linked to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. There is no evidence to support the theory that mental health results from chemical imbalances.
As stated above, sugar causes inflammation in the gut and entire body. Also, 70% of our Serotonin is made in our gut. Serotonin is our happiness chemical. What’s going on in the gut affects mood, including causing anxiety, depression and focus problems.
Fructose is the worst sugar
Fructose is turned into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat. Consuming fructose is fat producing.
The fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non‐alcoholic fatty liver disease. The metabolism of fructose by your liver creates a long list of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and causes gout.
Consuming fructose over glucose makes you seven times more likely to have AGES, causing oxidative stress and inflammation.
Another consideration is that glucose suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin, suppressing your appetite. Fructose has no such effect on ghrelin, resulting in overeating.