How Does Sugar Affect Our Health?

The prevailing view among modern-day researchers is that sugar consumption is the main cause of obesity and many chronic diseases. Sugar may be the source of pleasing flavor, but it is incredibly damaging to our health in many ways:

The Relationship Between Sugar and Obesity

In 2015, the World Health Organization estimated that 2 billion people, about one-third of the world's population, are overweight and some 600 million of these are defined as obese. This number has doubled since 1980, and in the years since then, people around the world have adapted to nutrition patterns that rely heavily on the consumption of more processed foods and sweetened beverages. Added sugar is one of the main causes of obesity and there is almost a direct link between the obesity epidemic and the increased consumption of sweetened beverages. The most problematic type of sugar is fructose, which we consume a lot more every day because white sugar, sucrose, breaks down in the body into glucose and fructose. By the way, corn syrup is the main source of fructose in the American diet. Experts around the world agree that sucrose-based diets cause effects similar to those of fructose, probably because fructose is 50% sucrose. Fructose undergoes different processes in the body than glucose, and therefore its consumption does not cause satiety. Therefore, you can drink large amounts of a sweetened drink without feeling full and all those excess calories can lead to obesity. Recent studies have shown a direct correlation between the increased intake of fructose and higher rates of obesity, and not just any old obesity, but rather abdominal obesity, which increases the risk of many diseases. This is because, unlike subcutaneous fat, abdominal fat behaves differently in the body and excretes harmful substances.

The Relationship Between Sugar and Diabetes

The obesity epidemic brings with it type 2 diabetes. Obesity, usually caused by excess sugar consumption, is the most powerful risk factor for diabetes and there is a link between excessive sugar intake and the risk of developing diabetes. In addition, the relationship between consumption of high fructose foods and the development of diabetes is already well established. Sugar consumption in large amounts can lead to a condition called "insulin resistance" in which the cells of the body do not respond to insulin and do not absorb the sugar from the blood, so the blood sugar level is higher than desired. The pancreas secretes more and more insulin to overcome the resistance of the cells and the level of insulin in the blood is heightened until the pancreas eventually becomes unable to produce more insulin, leading to diabetes.

Sugar and Fatty Liver

High intake of fructose is associated with an increased risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the most common liver disease in the world, found in approximately 30% of the adult population. Unlike other types of sugar, fructose goes directly to the liver, where it is utilized for energy or stored in the form of a substance called glycogen. Because the liver can store a limited amount of glycogen, a high intake of fructose will create a surplus that the liver will turn into fat and that fat will accumulate in it. Fatty liver a condition not to be overlooked because it increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease and, at worst, can develop cirrhosis of the liver and even liver cancer.

The Link Between Sugar and Cardiovascular Disease

A large amount of fructose causes abdominal obesity. The intra-abdominal fat also called "visceral fat," is linked to the development of heart disease. Fructose also increases the level of triglycerides in the blood and the levels of "bad" cholesterol (LDL). High levels of these fats in the blood can cause atherosclerosis, that is, deposits on blood vessel walls, thereby damaging blood flow, including blood flow to the heart. Excessive intake of calories leads to obesity, which also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. We have also seen that fructose affects the body's ability to respond to the insulin hormone, thus increasing the risk of diabetes, which also leads to cardiovascular disease.

The Connection Between Sugar and Tooth Decay

When we eat sugar, the bacteria in the mouth feed on it and break it down and as a byproduct of acid secretion. This acid destroys the structure of the tooth and causes holes and eventual decay of the teeth. As a protective measure, it is essential to brush your teeth regularly, especially after eating foods high in sugar, or better yet, reduce the number of sweets and sweet drinks you eat (particularly true for children).

The Relationship Between Sugar and Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis that develops in some people who have high levels of uric acid in the blood. The uric acid can create needle-like crystals in the joints and cause sudden spurts of pain, tenderness, redness, and swelling. How does all of this relate to sugar? Here too, fructose is to blame -- fructose increases the levels of uric acid in the blood and thus increases the risk of developing gout.

The Relationship Between Sugar and Hypertension

A high level of uric acid in the blood, due to increased consumption of fructose not only increases the risk of gout but can also lead to high blood pressure. Uric acid inhibits the activity of a substance called nitric oxide (NO) that dilates blood vessels. Nitric oxide helps the blood vessels maintain their elasticity and suppressing their action leads to an increase in blood pressure. In addition, when there is too much insulin in the blood and there is insulin resistance, there is a higher risk of hypertension.

The Relationship Between Sugar and Cancer

We have already seen that a diet rich in sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, elevated levels of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) and fatty liver and generally to what is called "metabolic syndrome." All these conditions are risk factors in and of themselves for different types of cancer. Studies on the relationship between added sugar in our diet and cancer continue to be conducted. In the meantime, we should minimize our risk factors by maintaining a healthy lifestyle as much as possible.

The Relationship Between Sugar and Depression

Several studies point to the connection between diet patterns that include processed and sugary foods and the heightened risk of developing depression. It is speculated that fluctuations in blood sugar levels and inflammation caused by sugar in the body can lead to depression.

The Relationship Between Sugar and Accelerated Aging Processes

Fructose raises blood levels of substances called AGEs (advanced glycation end products), substances that result from a chemical reaction between sugar and protein in our body. AGEs can cause premature aging of the skin and wrinkles because they damage collagen and elastin proteins that help the skin become stiff and tight. In addition, consuming large amounts of sugar has been shown to accelerate the reduction of telomeres, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes and are an essential part of human cells that affect how cells age. Over the years, telomeres shrink naturally, but an unhealthy lifestyle, including increased sugar consumption, speeds up the process and makes the body age faster.

The Relationship Between Sugar and Impaired Brain Function

Diabetes is a known risk factor for the development of dementia and people with type 2 diabetes have 50-65% more risk of developing Alzheimer's. Studies from recent years suggest that even high levels of blood sugar in people without diabetes can be a risk factor for dementia.

Recent evidence suggests that a possible mechanism for Alzheimer's disease is insulin resistance in the brain, and some have even coined it "type 3 diabetes." The reasons for these mechanisms continue to be investigated on an ongoing basis.

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