How Sugar Can Ruin Your Life

May 18th, 2009

Dangers of SugarIf you think it’s an exaggeration to say that something as common as sugar or refined carbohydrates can ruin your life, perhaps you should give more consideration to the excessive amounts of it that many people are consuming and the harmful effects that it can have on one’s health.

It only takes a quick look through most major grocery stores to notice the overwhelming selection of processed and packaged foods and the much smaller selection of natural whole foods such as unrefined meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Much of this processed food contains unhealthy amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates as well as unnatural additives that are potentially harmful. Because processed foods are cheap to produce, have a long shelf life, and are specifically designed to taste good, they’re favored by both the food industry and the general public. The overwhelming abundance and availability of these foods is a clear indication that they’re a staple of the modern diet, and this is very likely to be a major factor in the prevalence of many life altering health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease, and cancer.

Some Bitter Facts About Sugar

In the early 1800s, the average American consumed about 12 pounds of sugar per year.2 According to USDA statistics, the average consumption of sugar, including corn sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, increased to more than 150 pounds per person by the year 2000.3 As such, sugar represents a considerable portion of the calories that many people consume.

Statistics indicate that for every person who consumes 5 pounds of sugar per year, there’s another person who consumes 295 pounds.2 Someone who follows a truly healthy diet based mostly on natural whole foods can easily consume as little as 5 pounds of sugar in a year, even including occasional indulgences. For each person following such a diet, there are people who eat more sugar in a single week than they eat in an entire year. That’s scary!

Refined Carbohydrates: A Hidden Source of Sugar

In most cases, refined carbohydrates are derived from processed grains and are deficient in nutrients as a result of the bran and germ of the original grain being removed. In general, the amount of nutrient loss is proportional to the amount of refinement, and this is especially the case with B vitamins.4,5,119,123 Based on this, refined carbohydrates are often referred to as “empty calories,” and because they often replace more nutritious foods in the diet, consuming them on a regular basis can result in a deficient intake of vitamins and minerals.115,116,117 This can leave the body without the materials it needs to maintain proper function and may contribute to the gradual onset of chronic diseae.118

In addition to promoting an inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals, the frequent consumption of refined carbohydrates can even deplete the body’s reserve of some nutrients. For example, the B vitamins naturally found in most grains are required for the energy production that supports our daily activities.120,121,122 Therefore, when sugar or refined carbohydrates are consumed and metabolized for energy production, the B vitamins that are required for this process must be obtained from other sources which can potentially accelerate the progression of a deficiency.

Refined grain products such as high fructose corn syrup are processed to the point of containing a very high concentration of sugar. Other grain derivatives such as wheat flour are not quite as refined as corn syrup, but are still highly processed and are notorious for causing the same health problems. Most people know that table sugar is unhealthy and make at least some effort to avoid it. However, not nearly as many people realize that highly refined grains are potentially just as harmful or that they’re the primary ingredients in a large majority of frequently consumed foods such as most types of bread, bagels, cereal, and pasta. As such, the many people who eat these processed foods on a regular basis probably don’t realize that they may very well be consuming an excessive amount of refined carbohydrates, and if they don’t realize this, then they most certainly don’t realize that it may be harming their health and reducing their quality of life.

How Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates Can Harm Your Health

If you consider how much sugar and processed food many people are eating on a regular basis, the prevalence of obesity and poor health shouldn’t be all that surprising. Sugar and refined carbohydrates are major ingredients in nearly all modern foods and they’re being consumed in record proportions. Many people are unaware of the associated risks and some people even believe that highly refined foods such as bread and pasta are healthy choices!

The following are some of the significant risks that are commonly associated with frequent consumption of sugar or refined carbohydrates.

Impaired Blood Sugar Regulation

Foods that are high in sugar or refined carbohydrates are digested into large amounts of glucose that quickly enter the bloodstream. This causes a rapid rise in blood sugar and often provokes an exaggerated release of the hormone insulin to lower it.6,7,8,112 When this occurs frequently, the persistent strain put on the pancreas to produce additional insulin can impair the body’s ability to maintain consistent blood sugar levels9,10 which can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.11,12,13,14,113 Left unaddressed, chronically elevated blood sugar, commonly referred to as hyperglycemia, can damage the kidneys,15 nervous system,16,17,18,19,20 cardiovascular system,21,22 and retinas23,24,25,26, all of which is commonly associated with diabetes.

For some people, the exaggerated insulin release that can be caused by the consumption of sugar or refined carbohydrates removes too much glocose from the blood and results in low blood sugar. This is referred to as reactive hypoglycemia and is associated with a number of unpleasant symptoms including anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty thinking.27 In fact, reactive hypoglycemia has even been associated with criminal and antisocial behavior.28,29,30,31 Another symptom of hypoglycemia is hunger27 which can cause cravings that provoke even more consumption of sugar and carbohydrate and lead to another bout of low blood sugar. This vicious cycle of blood sugar fluctuation can lead to a variety of symptoms and conditions and is one of the primary reasons why sugar and refined carbohydrates are so unhealthy.

Obesity and Weight Gain

Sugar is our primary source of energy, and when consumed, it can be converted to glycogen and stored in muscle or the liver for future use. However, many people consume an excessive amount of carbohydrates that significantly exceeds their storage capacity for glycogen, and when this happens, the sugar resulting from carbohydrate digestion is converted to body fat.32,33 This is especially the case with fructose34 which is a significant component of the high fructose corn syrup that is found in many sweetened beverages and processed foods. Because of this potential for sugar and refined carbohydrates to cause weight gain, many of the people who consistently consume the processed foods that contain them are significantly overweight.4,12,35,36,37,38,39,40,113 In addition, these foods have been shown to encourage overeating which further increases their potential to cause weight gain.35,36,40

Minimizing the consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates is truly one of the easiest ways to lose weight, but many people are unwilling to give up the convenience and pleasure of eating processed foods or simply don’t realize how much of a problem they are. Instead, they often choose to sacrifice their health even more by overexercising or excessively restricting their calorie intake.

Sugar Addiction

Most people have experienced the brief elevation in mood and energy that can occur shortly after the consumption of sugar or refined carbohydrates. Likewise, most people are also familiar with the subsequent feeling of sluggishness that often follows. As such, it’s pretty obvious that sugar consumption can have a direct impact on mood. It has been shown that people tend to have stronger cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates than other foods and that these cravings are often associated with feelings of fatigue, anxiety, or depression.131 In fact, a strong association has been shown to exist between increased sugar consumption and an increased prevalence of major depression.127

Extensive research on rats has provided scientific evidence that there is indeed potential for sugar to be addictive. Similar to recreational drug use, sugar has been shown to increase brain concentrations of dopamine and opiates which have a significant influence on mood. In addition, when sugar is consistently consumed in excess, it has been shown to delay the release of acetylcholine which can prolong appetite and encourage binge eating. Frequent sugar consumption has also been shown to reduce sensitivity to dopamine and opiates and produce withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and depression, all of which is consistent with the characteristics of drug addiction.42,43,44,128,129,130 In fact, one study has shown sugar to be even more addictive than cocaine.45

Poor Digestion and Dysbiosis

The intestines contain hundreds of different species of bacteria and fungi that play an important role in human health by producing vitamins, supporting the immune system, and facilitating the digestion and absorption of essential nutrients. However, when the intricate balance of these microorganisms is disrupted, leading to a condition referred to as intestinal dysbiosis, it can result in symptoms of compromised health and even serious disease.124,125,126 Because sugar and refined carbohydrates fuel the proliferation of bacteria and fungi,46 consuming these foods in excess can cause dysbiosis and lead to a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms including fatigue, depression, and vitamin deficiencies.47,48,49 More importantly, it can also cause much more serious conditions such as colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.124

The overgrowth of a particular genus of fungi named Candida is often associated with dysbiosis and an excessive intake of sugar or refined carbohydrates. Candida overgrowth can cause many common symptoms of compromised health including fatigue, anxiety, depression, and impaired memory and concentration, and is also believed to play a role in the development of much more serious conditions such as mental disorders, autoimmune disease, and intolerance to a wide variety foods and chemicals.50,51,52,53 Candida overgrowth can also cause hormonal and menstrual dysfunction, suppress immunity, cause damage to the intestinal lining which allows antigenic substances to enter the blood, and has also been associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.49

Heart Disease and Cancer

Heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in America by a large margin,132 and both conditions have been repeatedly associated with the intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. In regard to heart disease, an association with the consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates has been shown for heart attacks,64 atherosclerosis,65,66 and heart disease in general.4,61,62,63 One of the primary factors that these associations have been attributed to is the potential for sugar and refined carbohydrates to elevate blood sugar, and in turn, provoke tissue damage and inflammation in the lining of arteries.60,134

Sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption has also been associated with a number of different forms of cancer including lung cancer,67 gastric cancer,68 pancreatic cancer,69 prostate cancer,70 colon cancer,71 and breast cancer.133 This is mostly attributed to the potential for sugar to suppress the immune system which can increase the risk of cancer by as much as 10,000 times.56

Suppressed Immunity

It’s well known that vitamin C plays an important role in the function of the immune system. However, glucose and vitamin C are transported into cells through a common mechanism which means that the increased concentration of blood glucose resulting from the consumption of sugar or refined carbohydrates reduces the amount of vitamin C that can be absorbed by immune cells. Because vitamin C is needed for phagocytosis, which is an important aspect of immune function, consuming sugar or refined carbohydrates can therefore suppress the immune system.54,55,56

As mentioned earlier, the exaggerated insulin response that often follows the consumption of sugar or refined carbohydrates can cause an excessive drop in blood sugar and result in a state of hypoglycemia. When this happens, glucocorticoid hormones such as cortisol are released to elevate blood sugar levels back to a normal level. Under normal circumstances, glucocorticoid hormones suppress the immune system to prevent it from overreacting and causing tissue damage which is why they’re often prescribed to reduce inflammation and autoimmune activity.57 Based on this, consuming sugar or refined carbohydrates can invoke the release of glucocorticoid hormones and is yet another possible way in which eating these foods can suppress immunity. If this occurs on a frequent basis, it can also contribute to the development of adrenal fatigue by putting additional burden on the adrenal glands to produce more glucocorticoid hormones.58

Suppressed immune function is a significant problem in its own right, but in regard to sugar, it’s even more of a problem. Some of the conditions that sugar can contribute to, such as intestinal dysbiosis and the development of cancer, can only be kept under control by a strong immune system. Because sugar also suppresses immune function, it increases the potential for these problems to progress at a faster rate.

Free Radical Tissue Damage

The function of protein molecules can be changed by the addition of a sugar molecule. Although this happens in the body under normal circumstances through controlled enzyme reactions, it can also happen randomly without the action of enzymes and result in the creation of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) which have been associated with aging and number of degenerative disorders.72 Much of this is due to the potential for AGEs to cause oxidative or free radical tissue damage.73 AGEs can originate from cooked food that contains both protein and sugar,74 and they can also be created within the body from blood concentrations of glucose, fructose, or other simple sugars.75,76,77,78 In addition, elevated levels of blood glucose can cause oxidative tissue damage through means other than AGEs.79,80 As such, many of today’s popular foods that contain sugar or refined carbohydrates can contribute to degenerative tissue damage in a variety ways.

Because of their association with elevated blood sugar, AGEs are an important aspect of complications relating to diabetes including cataracts and heart disease.73,81,82,83,84 Even in non diabetics, AGEs have still been associated with retina damage89,90 and heart disease91,92,93,114 as well as strokes,94 sleep apnea,95 impaired muscle function,96 and accelerated aging in general.97,98

Other Conditions Associated with Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates

In addition to the conditions already described, the consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates is also associated with osteoporosis,99 allergic nasal congestion,100 high blood pressure,12,62,101,102,103 kidney stones and kidney disease,62,104,105 gall stones,106 cataracts,107 liver disease,108 tooth decay,109 hyperactivity,110 and adverse food reactions including migraine headaches.111

How Sugar Can Ruin Your Life

Consuming sugar or refined carbohydrates in moderation is unlikely to have a significant effect, but as we can see from the overwhelming number of people who are overweight, suffer from type 2 diabetes, or are unhealthy in general, it’s obvious that many people are consuming more than they should. While it may seem drastic to say that sugar and refined carbohydrates can ruin your life, it should be much easier to believe after considering the many symptoms, conditions, and diseases that they’ve been associated with, many of which are debilitating and can indeed ruin your life.

Many people who regard themselves as healthy are still likely to be experiencing fatigue, moodiness, or a wide variety of other undesirable symptoms. However, because such problems have become so common, these people are unlikely to perceive their symptoms as a sign of compromised health or realize that they’re missing out on the greatly improved quality of life that optimal health can provide. Those who fail to recognize this and continue to eat excessive amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates will be more likely to succumb to poor health and disease. In fact, many of these people may already be gradually approaching the onset of major disease without knowing it, and this could eventually lead to significant discomfort and restriction. Although it’s true that some people are less susceptible to the negative effects of poor diet and other unhealthy habits, is it really worth the risk to assume that you’ll be one of the lucky ones? Even if you are less susceptible, it’s still likely that your quality of life will eventually be compromised in some way by such habits.

Because sugar and refined carbohydrates are such a large part of the modern diet, and because they have such a tremendous effect on our wellbeing, I consider them to be one of the most significant causes of poor health and disease. The work of Dr. Weston A. Price supports this and clearly shows how the excellent health of many native cultures rapidly declined once they were introduced to modern foods.

A Better Life Without Sugar

Because of the sweet taste and addictive nature of sugar and refined carbohydrates, many people have a difficult time eliminating them from their diet despite the damage they can cause. In fact, some diabetics end up losing their sight or having their feet amputated because they’re unable to control the very same cravings and eating habits that caused their illness. If you’d like to live a healthier and happier life, here are some practical tips for eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet.

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