As kids, we were taught that too much sugar would rot our teeth, but today we know that the ramifications of a lifelong sugar splurge are scarier than a finger-wagging dentist. Yes, sugar can cause cavities, but of much greater concern is the sweet stuff’s link to bodywide inflammation.
Sugar can contribute to cellular inflammation, which is like a continuing series of paper cuts that compromise cell function. Deep inside the body, these microscopic wounds fester below the pain threshold. Because many of us don’t see or feel the damage, there is little incentive to cut back on the inflammatory diet that is causing this constant cellular damage, so the party continues.
That is, until the body blows a gasket. Left unchecked, inflammation can unleash dozens of different diseases.
Here are just a few of the malfunctions related to a lifetime of sweet indulgence:
Results of a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people who got at least 25 percent of their daily calories from added sugars were 3.1 times more likely to have low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol than people who got less than 5 percent of their calories from sweets. People on the high end of the sugar spectrum were also more likely to have dangerously high levels of blood fats called triglycerides.
Scientists have long known that cancer cells love glucose. A common scan used to detect cancer in the body, called a PET, starts with a person downing a sugary solution. After the sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, the scan identifies possible malignancies by highlighting areas that gobble up the most sugar. “Data supports the general hypothesis that cancer cells are addicted to glucose and that, by restricting glucose metabolism, one can stop their growth,” says Don Ayer, PhD, a cancer researcher at the University of Utah and the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.
Type 2 diabetes, a deadly disease that can cause blindness and nerve damage, and can lead to amputations of digits and limbs, is perhaps the most direct and serious repercussion of excess sugar in the diet. In the United States, nearly 24 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes and another 57 million suffer from insulin resistance or prediabetes. Some experts estimate that by 2050 one in three Americans will have the disease.
In the early stages of type 2 diabetes, cells stop responding to insulin. Unable to enter the cells, glucose builds up in the blood, triggering inflammatory health conditions. Left untreated, insulin resistance often escalates into type 2 diabetes. But long before that diagnosis, the inflammation associated with prediabetes (sometimes called metabolic syndrome) wreaks havoc on the body, setting the stage for heart disease and cancer, among other serious problems.
Yeast is a natural inhabitant of the gut. Healthy bacteria help keep yeast levels in check. But when antibiotics, illness or chronic stress kill off healthy bacteria, yeast can run amok. Sugar compounds the problem by feeding yeast growth. “Sugar enables yeast to go from a budding stage to a tissue invasion stage,” says Carolyn Dean, MD. Yeast overgrowth can cause problems ranging from yeast and fungal infections to rashes, thrush and leaky gut syndrome.
Immune System Snafus
Because a diet laden with sugar creates body-wide biochemical stress and inflammation, it can overstress and thereby weaken the immune system in a variety of ways. One way, as noted before, is by triggering leaky gut syndrome, which leads to undigested food molecules getting into the bloodstream. When that happens, the immune system has to finish the digestive process, an overwhelming and distracting effort. “In short, our defense forces get exhausted by the sugar,” says Teitelbaum, “so that when real trouble comes down the pike, the immune system can’t respond.” A leaky gut can also underlie disorders characterized by an overactive immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriasis.
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By Catherine Guthrie, Experience Life