After years of chronic exposure to sucrose, physiological processes not unlike addiction take hold. Rapid absorption of sugars from a high-sucrose meal triggers a dangerous sequence of unfavorable hormonal and metabolic alterations that promote still greater consumption . . . The result is the dangerously high incidence of metabolic disease we see today – obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. ”Block Absorption of Killer Carbohydrates” Julius Goepp, MD, Life Extension Magazine
Do you love sweets . . . chocolate, ice cream, cake, candy? How about other carbohydrates . . . bread, pasta, potatoes, rice? Before you plunge into holiday self-indulgence, you may want to consider whether you are willing to pay the price. Do you really want to expose your body to the onset or increased risk of depression, concentration and coping difficulties, fatigue, pre-diabetes/diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and various immunity challenges (including exacerbated candidiasis, which can cause sweets cravings)?
All Sugars Are Not Equal
Though all sugars are made from carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, they are not all equal. It is first important to note that glucose, a sugar derived from the digestion of carbohydrates (such as rice, pasta, potatoes, grains, fruits, some vegetables, and processed sweets), is our body’s primary source of energy. When the small intestine absorbs glucose into the bloodstream, the pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which combines with the glucose to enter the muscles and brain to enable them to function.
Since glucose is such a vital form of energy, it is critical to maintain it within a normal range. The human body adapts to high levels of glucose in the blood either by storing it in the muscles or liver as glycogen (for later reabsorption when levels drop), or by speeding the release of insulin. (Glucose in the liver is also metabolized into triglycerides, fatty acids, and energy.) As the body produces more insulin to deal with the excess blood sugar, it becomes overwhelmed by the volume of insulin and eventually feelings of physical and mental sluggishness develop. If not addressed, insulin resistance can develop into Type 2 diabetes.
Generally, the lower the glycemic index (GI) of a food containing sugar, the slower its impact on blood sugar, and thus the less damaging to the body. A carbohydrate is considered to be high glycemic if its GI is 70 or higher (baked goods, candy bars, soda/energy drinks), while low glycemic foods that contain more fiber, water, protein, or fat (beans, nuts, fresh vegetables) have GIs below 55.
At any step in the process, the abusive intake of sugar can cause problems in maintaining the right levels of blood glucose, which can lead to numerous health problems. While you cannot achieve your highest level of health if you consume a significant amount of any form of sugar, there are some that are arguably less damaging than others. Monosaccharides [glucose, dextrose, fructose (in fruits, honey, and agave); found in most refined/processed carbohydrate-rich foods] are the simplest and most damaging sugars, which are absorbed into the blood stream almost instantly. Disaccharides [sucrose (table sugar), maltose, lactose; includes genetically-modified high fructose corn syrup] are formed from different combinations of monosaccharides and are readily absorbed. Complex Sugars (oligo- or polysaccharides; in beans, whole grains, sweet potatoes, and other fiber-rich foods) are absorbed more slowly and are therefore less damaging. Sugar Alcohols [xylitol (anti-bacterial), sorbitol, maltitol, erythritol] are sugar-free, alcohol-free, relatively low-calorie and low-GI, and natural. Depending on individual digestive capacity, and type and quantity ingested, however, sugar alcohols are potential causes of gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
The best, lowest GI sweetener is stevia (GI 0, Calories 0), a South American leaf-based herb that is 200-300 times sweeter than sucrose. Although they contain fructose, some experts also recommend organic agave syrup (GI 30-40), and, in moderation, local, organic, raw honey (GI 55, full of antioxidants, and allergy-fighting and immune-boosting enzymes). Avoid artificial sweeteners, including sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin, all created from toxic chemicals.
Potential Health Problems from
Excess Sugar Consumption____
While a thorough discussion of the numerous potential problems stemming from sugar abuse is well beyond the scope of this article, below is a primer of some key concerns to keep in mind and some natural means of curbing sugar’s negative impact.
Processed sugars and carbohydrates cause blood insulin levels to rise, which in turn raises the level of endorphins, neurotransmitters produced by the brain that result in a chemical high and lift in mood. However, continuous intake of large doses of sugar/carbohydrates usually cause endorphin production to slow or cease, thus reducing endorphin levels in the body and causing slight-to-deep depression. To maintain a normal level of endorphins and lift the depression, more sugar and/or carbohydrates must be consumed. This causes a vicious cycle of addiction.
The Natural Approach-Try: The amino acids DL-phenylalanine (DLPA); L-tyrosine (produces adrenaline and dopamine, leaving the mind positive, calm, and alert); and L-tryptophan/5HTP (produce serotonin). SAMe is also a well-studied nutrient thought to increase the availability of serotonin and dopamine.
Reduced Brain Function/Focus
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is responsible for the development of new nerve tissue in the brain, and thus for the capacity to expand memory, learn, and grow. Research has shown that high sugar diets (like diets high in fat and low in essential fatty acids) decrease BDNF. Although the issue is controversial, Lendon Smith, M.D., a well-known pediatrician, has further maintained that sugar can cause hyperactivity/ADHD by impacting the mid-brain, which controls emotions and the ability to focus.
The Natural Approach-Try: Chromium polynicotinate; B-complex; and a combination of GABA, L-taurine, L-glycine, inositol, and valerian.
Sugar not only generally suppresses the immune system (especially by competing with vitamin C for entry into cells), but it specifically feeds cancer. It has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, lung, gallbladder, and stomach.
The Natural Approach-Try: Bovinecolostrum (especially protects against viruses and cancer; produces dopamine); echinacea (natural immune stimulant) and goldenseal (natural antibiotic); and astragalus (boosts white blood cell activity to serve as an antibacterial and antiviral; ideal for children).
Metabolic Syndrome /Obesity
Metabolic syndrome is generally diagnosed when a patient has three of five interrelated conditions, which the intake of excess sugar can exacerbate: (1) excessive belly fat (waist circumference – women > 35”/ men > 40”); (2) high triglycerides > 150; (3) low HDL (“good” cholesterol that carries LDL out of the body)
< 50; (4) high blood pressure over 130/85 (normal is 110/70); and/or (5) fasting glucose > 100, which indicates a resistance to insulin (pre-diabetes). According to Burton Berkson, M.D., Ph.D., insulin resistance always exists in metabolic syndrome because excess insulin production promotes increases in blood fats, blood pressure, and fat storage.
By generating high levels of cell-damaging free radicals, metabolic syndrome causes premature aging. Along with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, it increases the risk for various other disorders, including heart and eye disease, Alzheimer’s, some cancers (including breast cancer), and obesity.
Waist circumference is but one indicator of whether one might be overweight or obese due to excess consumption of sugar. Overweight can also be defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25-29, while obesity can be defined as a BMI equal to or greater than 30. Since the liver can only store 100 g of glucose as glycogen, and the muscles can store only 500 g of glycogen, any excess sugars are converted to and stored as fat. There is practically no limit to how many calories the body can store as fat.
The Natural Approach-Try: (1)regular aerobic exercise (even a 10-minute walk after meals can clear glucose out of the bloodstream) and resistance training/weight lifting; (2) a calorie-restricted, healthy diet, including daily breakfast to reduce the risk of obesity and insulin resistance by 33-50%; (3) stress reduction techniques (stress and anxiety can cause Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and can shorten lifespan); and (4) nutritional supplements to reduce insulin resistance and control blood sugar: “carb-blockers” (white bean extract, irvingia/African mango, brown seaweed); resveratrol [mimics calorie restriction, combats abnormal levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin)]; alpha lipoic acid (helps burn glucose); gymnema sylvestre(stimulates insulin production); vanadyl sulfate (mimics insulin); chromium polynicotinate (combats insulin resistance, binds to insulin to facilitate muscle use of glucose, promotes weight loss); magnesium; and milk thistle standardized for silymarin content (lowers/stabilizes blood glucose levels; protects the liver, the most important tissue involved in insulin utilization).
With a healthy diet, daily exercise, and the appropriate nutritional supplements, you can combat sugar abuse and thus improve and prolong your life. You might begin with some form of enjoyable exercise and an experienced practitioner or health coach who can guide you through the healthy-diet maze and chart your progress. Once the health effects of your new lifestyle begin to kick in, you’ll crave nutritious foods rather than sugar, and will wonder how you ever ate all those sweets!