You must have heard a thousand times that sugar isn’t good for your health. But why sugar is bad and what damage can those harmless-looking white crystals do to your health?
Dietary sugar obtained from sugarcane is a form of carbohydrate that breaks down into glucose and fructose in the body to provide energy to the cells. However, according to NCBI research, sugar falls under the category of “food addiction” because it has an impact on brain pathways. It activates opioid and dopamine centres in the brain that is responsible for sugar's addictive potential. Excess dopamine in the body is associated with the feeling of pleasure, and that makes you want to repeat the behaviour again and again to experience the high.
If you sit down to think about it, you will realise that there is a good amount of added sugar in your diet—around 10 to12 teaspoons per day! Can you believe that? That’s an invitation to many chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, skin allergies, autoimmune disorders, and many more. In fact, India leads the list in sugar consumption.
Let’s dig deep and discuss the many ill effects of sugar on the body:
1. No nutrition
Sugar lacks nutritional value—yes, you read that right! Sugar can give you nothing except an increased calorie intake. Products that contain sugar naturally (versus added sugar) are comparatively better as our body digests them at a slower rate, making them a lasting source of energy. Plus, these foods also have nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
2. Weight gain
There is strong evidence to suggest that excess intake of sugar is one of the major causes of weight gain. The biggest problem with this sweet compound is that it gets quickly absorbed in the bloodstream, so it gets digested quickly and does not satiate you for long. As a result, you feel hungry again quickly and take another meal. Not to mention, excess sugar in the body gets stored as fat.
3. Type 2 diabetes
Excess sugar intake increases insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas, and it helps glucose to enter the cells of muscles, liver, and fat so that it can be utilised for energy.
Insulin resistance means your body cells stop responding to insulin and do not take glucose from the blood. As a result, the pancreas secretes more insulin to push glucose inside the cells. Weak response by body cells makes your pancreas overwork. Eventually, the pancreas gets exhausted, and they release less insulin or no insulin at all, leading to high blood glucose levels or type 2 Diabetes. That’s how sugar affects the body.
High blood glucose levels are a root cause of many chronic diseases. Since this excess sugar is not utilized by the cells, it is floating in the bloodstream and can affect the organ where it gets accumulated.
4. Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
High blood sugar can cause damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys, which increases the risk of kidney disease and other metabolic disorders. Research suggests that high blood sugar levels induce insulin resistance and increase levels of serum uric acid which further increases the conversion of glucose to fructose—the key factor in the progression of kidney damage.
5. Cardiovascular disease (CVD)
According to the American Heart Association, CKD elevates the risk of cardiovascular disease manifesting as coronary artery disease, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death. Apart from this, high sugar intake is also directly associated with heart disease, no matter if you are obese or not. According to NCBI research, prolonged exposure to high sugar in the body (hyperglycemia) accelerates the atherosclerotic process (plaque formation in kidneys), thus blocking the arteries and causing a heart attack.
6. High blood pressure
For a long time, we’ve been blaming salt for high blood pressure—but sugar cubes are also in this race! Hyperglycemia reduces the ability of the blood vessels to stretch and further increases insulin resistance. High blood pressure can strain the blood vessels and damage them. This makes it difficult for blood to flow around the body and reach all vital organs, leading to stroke.
7. High risk of cancer
Cancer cells feed on sugar. According to Otto Warburg, a German scientist, tumour cells or cancer cells consume more glucose than normal tissues. Research also indicates that a diet rich in sugar can lead to obesity and high blood glucose levels which majorly raises the risk of many types of cancer. A study published in BioMed Research International clearly states that hyperglycemia leads to a more malignant phenotype of cancer cells, including proliferation, metastasis, and chemotherapy resistance. A diet rich in sugar and highly refined carbs make insulin go wild, which acts as a growth factor in the body leading to obesity and cancer. However, correct food choices with low sugar intake can help to prevent and fight cancer.
It’s evident now as to why sugar is bad for health and how its consumption can adversely affect your body. So please be cautious about how much of processed sugar you are consuming.