By now you have probably been told more than a few times that over-consumption of sugar creates health issues. Who hasn’t experienced the short-term sugar-ugh, “I ate too much cookie dough!” Nary a woman over 40 can indulge without worrying that the evidence won’t appear the next day on her thighs. Many of us, myself included, grapple on a daily basis with sugar cravings. A mental tug of war ensues when we swear off the stuff and negotiating the holiday temptations can be nearly impossible.
Sometimes its helpful to have some reminders about how sugar wreaks havoc in the human body. I’ve compiled a list of 5 lesser-known effects of eating sugar. For me this little list incentivizes me to stick with my goal to eat “clean.”
- Glycation: I’m starting with the freakiest consequence of eating sugar first. “Glycation” occurs when chronic high blood sugar effects proteins in the body. Sugars in the blood react with proteins and make them stiff and sticky. Like the sugary blackened juice of a sweet potato stuck to the pan, this chemical process creates advanced glycation end products, memorably nick-named, “AGEs.” These complexes change the shape and function of proteins in your body. Like your skin. And your brain. Basically if you want to be wrinkly and brainless in your old age, eats lots of sugar.
- Immune impairment: For years I’ve been advising patients to avoid sugar especially when the are fighting an infection. It is as if you have tied the arms of your immunity behind its back when you eat sugar. This let’s a virus that’s settling in your throat for example, have a big uninterrupted party. A study in The Amercian Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed that eating sucrose, honey or even unsweetened orange juice dampened immune function by about 50% for up to five hours. So if you consume sweets throughout the day, you are setting yourself up for trouble the next time a virus or bacteria wafts your way.
- Chronic Inflammation: Eating too much sugar raises insulin levels for extended periods of time. Insulin is great when you are trying to get sugar out of your blood stream and into your cells. However chronic elevated levels create problems, such as insulin resistance (pre-diabetes), accelerated aging and inflammation. You might feel chronic inflammation as muscle and joint pain, or it might show up as cardiovascular disease, allergies or asthma.
- Increased cravings: The brain responds quickly to sugar by releasing dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone. Neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis says that sugar “hijacks the brain’s reward pathway,” kicking off a spiral of craving and consumption. The bottom line, the more sugar you eat the more you want.
- Anxiety and depression: We all have experienced the sugar crash after a binge, often leading to the infamous “sugar blues.” In my early twenties, I remember downing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s only to find myself bawling over nothing thirty minutes later. Sweet eaters often use sugar to elevate mood. This sort of works thanks to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that responds to sugar consumption. Datis Kharrazian, DC, author of Why Isn't My Brain Working? says problems arise when over stimulation of serotonin depletes the supply. Deficient serotonin results in sadness, anxiety, irritability and “glass-is-half-empty" attitude.
If this little overview isn't enough to convince you to put on the brakes as you reach for your fifth holiday cookie this evening, try reading more here and here and here. And if it is, stay tuned for 5 Secret Weapons to Conquering your Sugar Cravings, posting here soon!