It’s a good two months after the holidays, but many of us are still struggling with an addiction to sugar. High sugar intake can deplete your body of vital nutrients, increase your risk of disease, affect your mood, and suppress your immune function. Drinking 2 cans of soda, which contains approximately 20-24 teaspoons of sugar can suppress immune function for up to 5 hours after consumption! One of the main issues with sugar is that it competes with vitamin C in our immune cells, which lowers the ability to fight infection. Before we delve too far into our discussion about sugar, perhaps we should first define what sugar is and its implication in the diet.
There are three macronutrients required to sustain life: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Sugar is a carbohydrate. The term sugar typically invokes the image of white refined table sugar (made from sugar beets and sugarcane), which contains empty calories. However, sugar is also found in the forms of glucose, galactose, lactose, fructose, sucrose and maltose.
Devoid of nutrients, sugar can actually deplete the body of nutrients which are needed for sugar metabolism. The main nutrients depleted by sugar include B vitamins, chromium, and magnesium. B vitamins are important for enzymatic reactions in the body and low levels can cause tiredness, numbness and tingling. Chromium is important for insulin regulation, and magnesium supports many enzymes in the body. Some food for thought; one molecule of sugar depletes 54 molecules of magnesium.
What types of conditions do you correlate with increased sugar consumption?
Typically, obesity, diabetes, cavities and metabolic syndrome to name a few. Other conditions caused by high sugar intake are cardiovascular disease, (which is caused by increased fat deposition), hormonal imbalances, cancer, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hypertension and high triglycerides in the blood. How are all of these diseases related? The cell membrane is coated in a glycocalyx. The glycocalyx helps control the endothelial cells in blood vessels. When the endothelial cells are disrupted due to increased sugar consumption, sugar molecules will covalently attach to protein or lipid molecules in blood vessels. This will compromise the glycocalyx, causing a fluid imbalance. This imbalance results in edema and plaque formation – a cardiovascular risk.
What does that mean for us? Blood sugar is increased in the blood vessels causing increased glycation of endothelial cells, increased inflammation, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes among other health concerns. The intake of refined sugar causes the initial spike in blood sugar, so the pancreas releases insulin. This can cause low blood sugar, which influences another reaction where the adrenal gland will release cortisol to increase low blood sugar and bring it back into balance. The cycle of insulin release and then cortisol released by the adrenal glands can cause chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal fatigue, and menopause.
What causes you to crave sugar?
In the short term, increased consumption of sugar can increase L-tryptophan which is converted into serotonin. This ultimately leads to improvements in mood. Sugar also engages opiate receptors, which can lead to a sugar addiction. Sugar cravings can be a result of candida overgrowth in the gut. Think about that for a minute. Candida feeds on sugar and can cause you to crave sugar.
Candida is an organism usually found in the human body, where small quantities are normal and needed for our survival. If an imbalance in the flora occurs where good bacteria are lacking, candida can overgrow. “Good” bacteria keep “bad” bacteria in check, preventing it from overgrowing, but when this system is upset, candida can flourish. The balance can be upset by the overuse of antibiotics (they destroy all bacteria, not just the “bad” guys) and by overconsumption of sugar. Without “good” bacteria to keep “bad” bacteria in check the “bad” guys can take over.
Does that mean all sugar is bad?
Not always. Natural sugars, like those found in fruits and vegetables, are good for you because they contain vital nutrients. One should try to avoid all refined and concentrated sugars, such as white table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, processed honey and brown sugar. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Nutrasweet) and saccharin should also be avoided. Stevia is a good alternative natural sweetener which doesn’t contain calories. It has been shown to help regulate pancreatic function in diabetics to decrease blood sugar, as well as exhibit antimicrobial qualities.
Suzanne Woomer, ND, L.Ac, is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist at Hart Acupuncture and Nutrition in Farmington, CT. She is also a certified Reiki Master, and offers community acupuncture at West Hartford Yoga on select Saturdays. For more information or to schedule an appointment call Hart Acupuncture and Nutrition at (860) 284-4406 or visit: hartacu.com.