Sometimes, following the mainstream advice on diabetes could seriously damage your health. A prime example is the role of sugar in the development of type 2 diabetes. According to Diabetes UK “Eating sugar does not cause diabetes. Diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors”. The BBC Health website says “It’s important to be aware of myths about the causes of diabetes. Eating too much sugar does not cause diabetes”.
These statements are rather like saying that a fall from a high building won’t kill you. It’s hitting the ground that does the damage. Well, just like stepping off a roof, eating too much sugar initiates a process that ends up with a great deal of damage being done to the body. The only difference is that in this case the process takes rather longer.
Just this month, researchers at the University of California claimed that sugar is so harmful that it should be controlled and taxed in the same way as tobacco and alcohol. They pointed out that sugar induces many of the diseases associated with ‘metabolic syndrome’, including high blood pressure, diabetes and accelerated ageing. In fact, they rated sugar as more dangerous to health than saturated fat and salt, which they called ‘dietary bogeymen’.
In 2010, a report from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, two of the most respected research institutions in the United States, concluded that “Higher consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is associated with the development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes”. This finding was based on a meta-analysis of studies involving more than 300,000 patients.
A placebo-controlled, crossover clinical trial, carried out recently at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, showed that drinking low to moderate amounts of sugary drinks for just three weeks
disrupted glucose and lipid metabolism and promoted inflammation in healthy young men, in ways that could lead to type 2 diabetes5. Even more worrying is evidence that fructose, the main sugar in sweetened soft drinks, alters the way developing fat cells in children’s bodies behave, leading to insulin resistance and abdominal obesity, both of which can contribute to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Why is sugar so damaging to us and why are so many of us hooked on it?
The fact is that humans were never designed to eat the quantities of the sweet white stuff we are exposed to today. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, a find of wild honey was a rare treat and sweet fruits and berries were seasonal and sparse. Stone age diets were mostly composed of fibre, protein and fats. There is just no place in our “genetic blueprint” for large amounts of sugar and our bodies cannot cope with its sustained consumption. Refined sugar has certainly earned its popular nickname – “the white death”. Slowly but surely, it is poisoning us.
A diet high in sugar is a sure way to raise sugar levels in the blood. High blood sugar slowly erodes the ability of cells in the pancreas to make insulin and the damage becomes permanent with time. High blood sugar also promotes the production of “glycated proteins”, which are proteins that have been damaged by binding with sugar. These glycated proteins react with oxygen to form superoxide free radicals that can degrade collagen, the structural matrix of our body, and are particularly damaging to the blood vessels.
High sugar levels and damaged blood vessels lead to the multitude of complications that can come with diabetes, including:
• kidney disease or kidney failure
• strokes and heart attacks
• visual loss or blindness
• immune system suppression
• erectile dysfunction
• diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
• poor circulation and poor wound healing.
The paradox is that we are born with an attraction to sweetness, the evolutionary explanation being that sweet-tasting plants are generally safe to eat, while bitter ones may contain toxins. For some of us at least, this attraction can become an addiction. It triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemicals, in precisely the same way as cocaine. Sugar addiction involves the same neural receptors, neurotransmitters, and “pleasure centres” in the brain as drug addiction and has the same symptoms of craving, dependence and withdrawal. The more sugar we eat every day, the more hooked on it we become.
In one recent study, French researchers were amazed when they found that rats preferred water sweetened with saccharine or sugar, at about the concentrations found in soft drinks, to hits of cocaine – exactly the opposite of what had been predicted. “It was a big surprise,” explained Serge Ahmed, a neuroscientist who led the research at the University of Bordeaux.
Luckily, this is one addiction that you can break relatively easily and your body will thank you for doing so. The main thing is to be aware of everything you put into your mouth. Follow the low-GL way of eating that I have described in previous posts. Have nuts and seeds, cheese or peanut butter available as snacks instead of confectionery. Say no to desserts and switch to water or herbal tea instead of soft drinks. Once you get through the first few days, you are likely to be amazed at how quickly your sweet cravings disappear as you cut out sugar and simple carbohydrates and keep your blood sugar in balance.
I have been mentioning type 2 diabetes quite a lot in my last few posts and I don’t want people with type 1 to feel that I am ignoring their particular needs. So, my next blog post will look specifically at the problems associated with that condition and what the latest findings suggest can be done to help manage it.
Wishing you the best of health,
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth
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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
3. Lustig RH, Schmidt LA, Brindis CD. Public health: The toxic truth about sugar. Nature. 2012; 482: 27–29.
4. Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Després JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010; 33(11): 2477-2483.
5. Aeberli I, Gerber PA, Hochuli M, Kohler S, Haile SR, Gouni-Berthold I, Berthold HK, Spinas GA, Berneis K. Low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011; 94(2): 479-485.
6. Coade G. Fructose sugar makes maturing human fat cells fatter, less insulin-sensitive. Presentation to The Endocrine Society’s 92nd Annual Meeting, San Diego, June 2010 by lead author Georgina Coade, a PhD student at the University of Bristol in the U.K.
7. Fortuna JL. Sweet preference, sugar addiction and the familial history of alcohol dependence: shared neural pathways and genes. Psychoactive Drugs. 2010 Jun;42(2):147-51.
8. Vendruscolo LF, Gueye AB, Darnaudéry M, Ahmed SH, Cador M. Sugar overconsumption during adolescence selectively alters motivation and reward function in adult rats. PLoS One. 2010; 5(2): e9296.
Category: Obesity and Weight Loss