Science has demonstrated that sugar wreaks havoc on our health. From heart disease to obesity, sugar consumption is the number one contributing factor to chronic health issues in the United States and around the world. Sadly, death by sugar may not be an overstatement.
Considering the fact that our cells depend on glucose for energy, it makes sense that our bodies have evolved to love, and even crave, sweet tastes. How we consume sugar, however, has changed dramatically over time. The average American takes in approximately 130 pounds of sugar annually. In fact, adult sugar intake has increased more than 30% over the last three decades. It’s no wonder that obesity is an epidemic, with more than two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese.
Today we explore the hidden dangers of excessive sugar consumption, as well as how the sugar industry has manipulated research about the dangerous health effects of sugar.
The Sugar Conspiracy Revealed
A secret deal occurred years ago that shaped the way that consumers think about food. In the mid-1950s, a British professor of nutrition by the name of John Yudkin began speaking of the dangers of sugar.1 In 1972, he published a book entitled Pure, White, and Deadly. Yudkin vehemently argued that it was sugar that was responsible for heart disease and other chronic health ailments.
As Yudkin and other scientists began questioning whether sugar was related to heart disease, the sugar industry jumped into action. In a shocking 2016 report published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), the world learned the truth: The Sugar Association paid the equivalent of $50,000 to three Harvard scientists to review and even alter the existing research.2 The result was a hugely influential report published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1967. The bogus paper served to critique the evidence linking sugar to heart disease.
So while the truth has now been revealed, years of conditioning have led the public to believe that fat is the enemy. For decades, health authorities urged Americans to lower their fat intake, resulting in increased consumption of low-fat, high-sugar foods.
These dishonest practices are nothing new. From deceptive marketing campaigns to massive advertising budgets, the food industry has been misleading consumers for years. The unscientific way in which the field has conducted itself is nothing short of dangerous. While here at the Save Institute we’ve been openly discussing this for a decade, it brings us hope to see more light being shed on the topic.
High Sugar Intake Depletes Your Bones
There are many mechanisms by which sugar negatively impacts bone health. First and foremost, sugar promotes the formation of Advanced Glycation End-products, or AGEs. These byproducts of the Maillard reaction damage collagen, the primary substance that makes up bone.
Consuming large amounts of sugar and foods with a high glycemic index also cause an increase in the levels of cortisol in the blood. Studies have confirmed that excess cortisol is detrimental to bone health.
Finally, sugar has been shown to cause bone-building nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and copper, to leech from your bones.
10 Signs Your Sugar Intake Is Excessive
1. Insulin Resistance
In response to consuming sugar, your pancreas produces and secretes the hormone insulin. Insulin travels through your blood, allowing glucose to enter the cells, where it is converted to energy or stored for later use.
Over time, too much sugar consumption causes the beta cells of the pancreas to produce less insulin. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood, causing
symptoms such as high blood pressure, brain fog, fatigue, hunger, and weight gain.
A recent review of evidence related to sugar intake and insulin resistance illustrated that there is a definite association between diets high in sugar and the risk of disease, including the reduction of insulin sensitivity.3 Untreated, insulin resistance can lead to diabetes.
According to a recent study, half of all U.S. adults have diabetes or prediabetes.4 In fact, between 1990 and 2010, the number of people living with diabetes tripled and the number of new cases annually doubled, illustrating just how fast the condition is growing.5
Until 2013, many scientists believed that obesity was the cause of diabetes. However, a large epidemiological study out of Stanford University found that sugar may be the real culprit.6 Examining data on sugar availability and diabetes from 175 countries, scientists found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates, independent of obesity rates. The study found that for every additional 150 calories of sugar available per person per day, the prevalence of diabetes in the population rose by one percent. Furthermore, the longer a population was exposed to sugar, the higher its diabetes rates.
If you find yourself constantly hungry or thirsty, or if you feel lightheaded or “off” when haven’t eaten, you might want to consider a diabetes evaluation.
3. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is typically associated with increased salt consumption. However, recent studies are pointing to sugar as an added problem. A 2014 study published in the journal Open Heart states that:
“It is time for guideline committees to shift focus away from salt and focus greater attention to the likely more-consequential food additive: sugar.”7
In a 2015 meta-analysis, researchers pooled findings from six studies that included a total of more than 240,000 people. They found a 12% higher risk of high blood pressure among people who drank one or more sugary drinks daily compared with those who drank none.8
4. Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. While fat-laden diets have typically been accused of causing heart disease, the latest research is pointing to sugar as a significant contributor.
First, sugar contributes to inflammation of the arterial walls. When insulin spikes in the blood in response to excess sugar consumption, the insulin begins to damage the fragile endothelial lining of the blood vessels, leading to heart disease.
Second, excessive sugar consumption often leads to weight gain. When a person carries excess weight, especially around the midsection, the heart has to work that much harder to circulate the blood throughout the body. The excess strain on the heart over time can lead to cardiovascular compromise.
Recent research has linked the amount of sugar in a person’s diet with the increased risk of dying from heart disease. People who consumed between 17 and 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had nearly a 40 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease compared with those who took in 8 percent or less of calories from sugar.9
What’s more, a recent study has found that the liver deals with fat differently on a high-sugar diet than a low sugar diet. After just 12 weeks of consuming a high-sugar diet, fat metabolism was altered, raising the risk of heart disease, even in healthy people.10
5. Weight Gain
What many people don’t realize is that since sugar is a carbohydrate, if consumed in excess, it turns into fat in the body. When an individual eats excessive amounts of processed carbs in the form of bread, cereals, or even sugary beverages, the body stores the energy it can’t immediately use as fat.
Aside from the calories it contains, sugar is a highly addictive substance. When we consume sugar, it causes the release of several “feel good” neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. However, once the temporary ‘sugar high’ wears off, we are left craving it again. As with drugs, excess consumption leads to increased sugar tolerance. Excessive consumption of these foods on a regular basis, causes changes in the neurotransmitter system to prevent it from becoming overstimulated. As a result, the calories begin to add up, leading to excess weight gain.
A large 2013 meta-analysis that included 68 different studies concluded what we already know: sugar intake is directly associated with changes in the body weight of adults.11
According to data from the CDC, 36.5% of U.S. adults are obese, as defined by a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. Obesity occurs when the energy intake from food and drink consumption is greater than the energy expenditure through both metabolism and exercise.
One of the main culprits of obesity is excess sugar consumption. Often, individuals consume large amounts of sugar through beverages. One study found that for each additional 12-ounce soda children drank each day, the odds of becoming obese increased by 60%.12
The effects of sugar on obesity extend beyond children. A 20-year study that followed over 120,000 people found that those who increased their sugary drink consumption by just one 12-ounce serving per day gained an additional pound every four years when compared to those who did not change their intake.13
7. Insatiable Hunger
If you are always hungry no matter how much food you consume, or if you experience frequent food cravings, you might have leptin resistance. Discovered in 1994, leptin is a hormone that is produced in the fat cells of the body. It is responsible of sending signals to your brain indicating that your stomach is full.
Eating a lot of sugar, grains, or processed foods causes your fat cells to flood your body with leptin. The more fat cells you have in your body, the more leptin is released. Over time, excess leptin causes your body to adapt by becoming resistant to it. As a result, your brain no longer receives the vital message that your energy stores have been replenished, causing you to remain hungry.
A study on rats published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that over-consumption of sugar can lead to higher than normal levels of leptin, thus reducing the body’s sensitivity to the hormone.14
Interestingly, the sugar conspiracy that we discussed earlier was discovered by a former dentist, Cristin Kearns. The dental industry has always had an interesting relationship with the sugar industry.
Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent problems among children in the United States. Tooth decay, or ‘dental caries,’ occur when acid in the mouth attacks the teeth, causing cavities to form. The acid is created when the healthy bacteria that line the teeth feed on sugar.15
According to research, sugar is the only cause of cavities in kids and adults.16 One study compared the incidence of dental caries from individuals living in the United States, where sugar consumption is extremely high, to those from Nigeria, where sugar is not often consumed. Up to 92% of people in the U.S. have tooth decay compared to only 2% in Nigeria.
Previously considered a rich man’s disease, gout is a painful type of inflammatory arthritis. The root cause of gout is excessive levels of uric acid in the blood, which crystallizes around the joints, causing pain. Sugar intake increases the production of uric acid, as well as reduces its excretion.
Researchers conducted a study on nearly 50,000 men to evaluate the role that diet plays in developing gout. The study found that urate levels increased with high consumption of fructose, such as soft drinks.17
10. Kidney disease
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs responsible for removing waste from the blood and excess fluid from the body. Like most health conditions, kidney disease is affected by diet. When blood sugar levels rise too high, known as hyperglycemia, the kidneys begin to excrete sugar in the urine. Too much sugar consumption over time can cause kidney damage.
A 2016 comprehensive study found that added sugars drive chronic kidney disease. The authors concluded that:
“A reduction in added sugars should be stressed as a dietary modification to prevent and treat chronic kidney disease and its complications. This helps to prevent worsening kidney function and also protects against other complications.”18
Good Kidney Function Is Critical To Good Bone Health
If you suffer from any of the signs above, including kidney disease, there is a silver lining. Your body is very forgiving and, given the right tools, it can heal itself. Let’s not forget that the kidneys are they are key players in the acid/alkaline pH balance in the blood.
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Till next time,
1 Yudkin, J. “Diet and Coronary Thrombosis: Hypothesis and Fact.” The Lancet.1957. 270(6987). 155-162. Web: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673657906141
2 Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. “Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents.” JAMA Intern Med. 2016. 176(11):1680–1685. Web: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2548255?redirect=true
3 Macdonald IA. “A review of recent evidence relating to sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes.” European Journal of Nutrition. 2016;55(Suppl 2):17-23. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174139/
4 Menke A, Casagrande S, Geiss L, Cowie CC. “Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States.” 1988-2012. JAMA. 2015;314(10):1021–1029. Web: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2434682
5 Rowley WR, Bezold C, Arikan Y, Byrne E, Krohe S. “Diabetes 2030: Insights from Yesterday, Today, and Future Trends.” Population Health Management. 2017;20(1):6-12 Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5278808/
6 Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH. “The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data.” 2013. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57873. Web: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0057873
7 DiNicolantonio JJ, Lucan SC. “The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease.” Open Heart. 2014. 3;1(1). Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25717381
8 Jayalath VH, et al. “Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and incident hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohorts.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015 102(4). 914–921. Web: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/102/4/914/4564590
9 Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. “Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults.” JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516–524. Web: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1819573
10 Umpleby AM, et al. “Impact of liver fat on the differential partitioning of hepatic triacylglycerol into VLDL subclasses on high and low sugar diets.” Clinical Science. 2017. 131(21). Web: https://www.clinsci.org/content/131/21/2561
11 Morenga LT, Mallard S, Mann J. “Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies.” BMJ. 2013. 346. Web: https://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e7492
12 Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. “Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis.” Lancet. 2001;357:505-8.
13 Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. “Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men.” N Engl J Med. 2011;364:2392-404.
14 Shapiro A, Tümer N, Gao Y, Cheng KY, Scarpace PJ. “Prevention and reversal of diet-induced leptin resistance with a sugar-free diet despite high fat content.” Br J Nutr. 2011. 106(3):390-7. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21418711
15 NHS Choices, 2014. “Tooth Decay,” https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dental-decay/Pages/Introduction.aspx. [Accessed February 11 2018].
16 Sheiham A, James PT. “A reappraisal of the quantitative relationship between sugar intake and dental caries: the need for new criteria for developing goals for sugar intake.” BMC Public Health.2014. 14:863. Web: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-14-863
17 Choi HK, Curhan G. “Soft drinks, fructose consumption, and the risk of gout in men: prospective cohort study.” BMJ : British Medical Journal. 2008;336(7639):309-312. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2234536/
18 DiNicolantonio JJ, Bhutani J, O’Keefe JH. “Added sugars drive chronic kidney disease and its consequences: A comprehensive review.: J. insul. resist. 2016;1(1). Web: https://insulinresistance.org/index.php/jir/article/view/3/4