Sugar, Inflammation, and Health

March 19, 2020

It’s no secret that sugar is bad for you. It spoils your teeth, packs on pounds around your belly, and provides zero nutrition. Unfortunately, these are the least of sugars crimes. The biggest reason why you should stop taking sugar is that it is one of the most pro-inflammatory foods. Current Research suggests that chronic, body-wide inflammation is associated with many modern diseases, like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. So what role does a high-sugar diet play in chronic inflammation? In this article, we’ll delve into this and much more….

  1. So, what is inflammation?

Inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing process.

Acute inflammation develops rapidly in response to an injury or infection. This type of inflammation tends to be good: It’s your body’s way of trying to fight off further damage while jump-starting healing. It usually lasts a few days to a few weeks.

Chronic inflammation is a long-term inflammation that occurs over months or years. It has several causes, including unhealthy lifestyle factors like diet. Over time, chronic inflammation can increase your risk of serious diseases.

Some foods, like sugar, can also cause inflammation in the body, which is normal. However, eating too many inflammatory foods may cause chronic low-grade inflammation. This can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and

  1. Sugar and inflammation

People who take diets rich in refined sugar may be increasing their risk of chronic inflammation. Research suggests that when people eat and drink less sugar, inflammatory markers in their blood decrease.

A high sugar diet can have harmful effects on health, such as increasing the risk of chronic diseases, weight gain, and tooth decay. It can also result in chronic inflammation, where the body’s immune system activates, which results in damage to healthy cells.

Inflammation resulting from lifestyle factors, such as obesity, smoking, and a sedentary existence can contribute to a range of diseases. These include heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.

  1. Is too much-added sugar linked to inflammation?

A lot of research has been carried out on how sugar causes inflammation.  Diets high in added sugar are thought to signal the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. Over time, that can create an environment of chronic, low-grade inflammation and lead to trouble in the future. Sugar also stimulates the production of free fatty acids in the liver. When the body digests these free fatty acids, the resulting compounds can trigger inflammatory processes.

Different kinds of sugar may contribute more or less to inflammation. For instance, some research has suggested that fructose may cause more inflammation than glucose. However, a systematic review found no difference in the inflammation from fructose and glucose, so more research is needed.

Also, the researchers saw no differences in inflammatory factors between the groups that consumed high fructose corn syrup vs. sucrose. The sample sizes were small, and the quality of the studies was low, so more research is necessary to confirm these findings.

Below are some of the common signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation:

  • depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders
  • body pain
  • constant fatigue and insomnia
  • constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, and other digestive issues
  • weight gain
  • frequent infections

People with chronic inflammation may have an increased risk of diabetes, depression, and dementia.

Chronic inflammation in older adults may also have links with a higher risk of death. Doctors are working on how to reduce chronic inflammation.

  1. How does added sugar affects your body?

When you consume excess added sugar and refined carbohydrates there will be a few changes in your body, which help explain why a diet high in sugar can lead to chronic, low-grade inflammation.

  • Excess production of AGEs: Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are harmful compounds that form when protein or fat combine with sugar in the bloodstream. Too many AGEs lead to oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • Increased gut permeability: Bacteria, toxins and undigested food particles can more easily move out of the gut and into the bloodstream, potentially leading to inflammation.
  • Higher bad LDL cholesterol: Excess LDL cholesterol has been associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.
  • Weight gain: A diet rich in added sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to weight gain. Excess body fat has been linked to inflammation, partly due to insulin resistance.

It is important to note that inflammation is unlikely to be caused by sugar alone. Other factors like stress, medication, smoking, and excess fat intake can also lead to inflammation.

  1. Is natural sugar linked to inflammation?

It’s important to note that there is a difference between added sugar and natural sugar. Added sugar is removed from its original source and added to foods and drinks to serve as a sweetener or increase shelf life.

Added sugar is found mostly in processed foods and drinks, though table sugar is also considered an added sugar. Other common forms include high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sucrose, fructose, glucose, and corn sugar.

Among US adults, around 13% of total calories come from added sugar. This is high, considering that government guidelines advise that no more than 5% to 15% of calories should come from both solid fats and added sugar.

Natural sugar has not been linked to inflammation. In fact, many foods containing natural sugars, such as fruits and vegetables, maybe anti-inflammatory. Natural sugars include those naturally occurring in foods. Examples include fructose in fruit and lactose in milk and dairy products.

Consuming natural sugars should not be any cause for concern. That’s because they act very differently than added sugar when consumed and digested in the body.

Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Inflammation

It is important to be aware of what we can do to minimize the inflammation in our bodies. Here are some simple tips to help reduce inflammation:

  • Adopt a low glycemic diet: High sugar intake links to chronic inflammation, stroke risk, coronary heart disease risk, and type 2 diabetes risk. Soda, refined carbohydrates, and high fructose corn syrup are foods that can promote inflammation.
  • Read food labels: If you are unsure about certain products, get into the habit of reading food labels. Look out for ingredients like sucrose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, and dextrose.
  • Choose whole-grain carbs: These include oats, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and barley. They have lots of fiber and antioxidants, which can help control blood sugar and protect against inflammation.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which can protect against and reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Eat lots of antioxidant-rich foods: Fill your plate with foods rich in antioxidants, which naturally help counteract inflammation. These include nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish and olive oil.
  • Keep active: Regular physical activity, including both aerobic and resistance exercise, can help protect against weight gain and inflammation.
  • Manage stress levels: Learning to manage stress levels through relaxation techniques and even exercise can help reduce inflammation.
  • Add curcumin to food: A component in turmeric called curcumin improves several inflammatory diseases.
  • Get enough fiber: Researchers have shown an association between high fiber diets and lower inflammatory factors, such as TNF-alpha and interleukin-6.
  • Drink green and black teas: Scientists have associated compounds found in green and black teas with lower C-reactive protein in the blood.
  • Eat more nuts: Almonds and other nuts may help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, are pro-inflammatory states. Diabetes is a chronic inflammatory disease.
  • Add fish oil to the diet: Omega-3 fatty acids positively affect lower levels of inflammatory factors in the blood, such as C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and TNF-alpha.
  1. Does sugar cause inflammation?

Inflammation is a critical component of metabolic syndrome. However, chronic low-grade inflammation leads to diseases like type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, non- alcoholic liver diseases, and gout. Research suggests that eating lots of sugar can lead to chronic inflammation

In the United States, the amount of high fructose corn syrup people consume increased from 1978 to 1998 and then stabilized according to the  Nationwide Food Consumption Surveys. With greater awareness of the risks of added sugar, sugar intake in the U.S. has been declining. Nonetheless, people are still consuming too much sugar.

There are several things you can do to help fight inflammation, including exercising regularly and effectively managing your stress levels. Furthermore, cut down on processed foods and drinks, choose whole foods, and limit your intake of added sugar and refined carbohydrates.

References

  1. Medical News Today (2017): Everything you need to know about inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248423.php
  1. Healthline (2017): Does Sugar Cause Inflammation in the Body? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sugar-and-inflammation
  1. Medical News Today (2019): Does sugar cause inflammation in the body? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326386.php
  1. Mindbodygreene (2019): The Real Reason You Should Quit Sugar + How To Cut It Out Of Your Life For Good. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-24763/the-real-reason-you-should-quit-sugar-how-to-cut-it-out-of-your-life-for-good.html
  1. NCBI (2014): Chronic inflammatory disorders and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, and stroke: a population-based cohort study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24970784
  1. NCBI (2019): Chronic Inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
  1. Greatist (2019): Does Sugar Actually Cause Inflammation? Retrieved from https://greatist.com/health/sugar-and-inflammation

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