6 very serious diseases caused by sugar

by Graham Simpson, M.D.

As regular readers will know, sugar is somewhat of a theme for me when it comes to promoting a healthy diet – and at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, it is sugar that I will be discussing once again today. There is a very good reason for my passion about this particular subject, however, and that is because despite countless warnings, many of us still hugely underestimate just what a devastating impact sugar can have on our bodies. What’s more, even those aware of the dangers are still likely consuming far too much of it.Sugar and disease

Let’s start then by clarifying exactly what is “too much” sugar. Traditionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended getting no more than 10% of our daily calorific intake from sugar. However, an update to their guidelines in 2015 saw them half that recommendation to 5% — which equates to around 25 grams, or six teaspoons, of sugar a day.

Now consider the following:

  • A can of soda contains about 35-40 grams of sugar (about 8 teaspoons).
  • A glass of store-bought orange juice also contains about 35-40 grams of sugar.
  • A bowl of cereal (even the ones marketed as “healthy” such as Special K) contain about 20 grams of sugar.
  • Depending on the brand, a small cup of your low-fat, fruit-flavoured yogurt contains upwards of 20 grams.
  • A medium-sized banana contains upwards of 20 grams.

And this is really still the tip of the iceberg here. Which is why in many countries around the world adhering to the Western diet the sugar intake is well above the WHO’s recommended daily amount. In the United States, for example, that figure tops 120 grams daily, and in Germany, the second highest sugar consumer in the world, it hovers around 100 grams. We can imagine the figures for several Gulf countries, the UAE included, are probably even higher. We are, after all, among the most overweight and obese countries in the world today, and it is sugar that causes obesity (which I will discuss below).

Statistics published in 2012 by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) held sugar responsible for over 35 million deaths per year globally, and depending on how we qualify the link between sugar and death, I would put the number far higher than that. Clearly then, this is about more than a couple of extra cavities and a few extra pounds. It is far more serious than that. Let’s take a look.

Recent studies show that sugar is responsible for 50% of all healthcare costs!

Cancer

The medical world has long suspected a link between sugar and cancer, and in light of several ground-breaking studies over the past decade, there is now a plentiful supply of scientific evidence to back up these suspicions. One such study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation points to sugar not only being a fuel source for existing cancers, but also cites it as a primary factor in the initiation of cancerous characteristics in previously healthy cells.

The study goes on to suggest that rather than increased glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose to provide energy) being a consequence of cancer, it is rather the activation of sugar-based metabolism in a cell driven by high sugar quantities on the cell membrane that actually causes cancer to form in the first place. Further research by America’s National Center for Biotechnology Information found that those who ate a diet with a high glycemic load (GL) increased their chances of developing prostate cancer by almost 30%, rectal cancer by 44% and pancreatic cancer by 41%.

Those who eat a diet with a high glycemic load (GL) increase their chances of developing prostate cancer by almost 30%

Overweight and obesity

There are few easier ways to pack on the pounds than by eating a high sugar diet. This is largely due to the sugar, fructose, found mainly in fruit juices, wheat products and “high fructose corn syrup” – which is most commonly added to food by manufacturers as it is sweeter and cheaper that sucrose (table sugar).

There is no hormone to remove fructose from our bloodstream, and very few of our bodies’ cells can make use of it. Therefore, it is left to the liver to remove it. When the liver is overwhelmed by too much of this sugar, it converts it to fat – which ultimately leads to insulin resistance, hardening of the arteries and, of course, obesity.

Fructose has also been known to cause weight gain by interfering with the way our bodies respond to the hormone, leptin. Leptin is secreted by fat cells – the bigger they are, the more they secrete – to tell the brain that we have adequate fat stores and, therefore, do not need to keep eating. However, high fructose levels can block the transport of leptin from the blood to the brain – making it incorrectly believe that the body needs to eat more and burn less in order to replenish our fat stores.

And in general just remember this: Because we eat too much sugar of all types in the Western diet, the body is unable to use it all for energy, and so it stores it as fat. When it comes to sugar and weight issues, it really is that simple.

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death here in the UAE (occurring 15-20 years earlier than the global average), and once again our high sugar intake is the biggest contributor to increases in rates of these diseases.

When we eat high amounts of sugar, our bodies release insulin to get excess glucose out of the bloodstream and into our cells. The higher the level of glucose in our blood, the higher the amount of insulin released. While this is a perfectly natural response to sugar in our bloodstream, when insulin is chronically high (which it is for most people adhering to that Western diet high in sugars and grains and processed foods) it causes inflammation and damages the lining of our blood vessels, leading to a host of cardiovascular-related concerns.

Those who get 17-21% of their calories from sugars are at a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who consume just 8% of their calories from sugar.

Diabetes

According to statistics from 2014, one in five of us here in the Emirates is diabetic – and the rest of the world doesn’t fare much better either. The disease affects nine percent of the global adult population and is responsible for a staggering 1.5 million deaths around the world each year. Or to put it another way, one person dies from diabetes every seven seconds.

Of course those are the official numbers, but I in fact believe things are far worse off in most countries where the Western diet is the predominant one, and would put the numbers at about one in two people showing insulin resistance with either pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Many in the medical profession have stopped short of placing the blame for the type 2 diabetes epidemic at sugar’s door, pointing to other factors such as a sedentary lifestyle. However, a recent study from 2013 has shed more light on the correlation between this all-to-common affliction and sugar intake. Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-San Francisco examined data on sugar availability and diabetes rates from 175 countries over the past decade and found evidence to suggest a direct link between the two.

And the reality is that the link is very easy to explain: If you consume a diet consistently high in sugar (150 pounds per year) and grains (200 pounds per year) and processed foods (full of sugars and trans fats), your blood glucose levels will be chronically elevated. The pancreas then becomes overworked and even damaged, the body becomes desensitised to insulin, and the end result is insulin resistance and eventually full-blown diabetes.

Alzheimer’s

The precise cause of Alzheimer’s has alluded the medical profession for many years. However, as with most things health-related, our diet is now thought to play a large part. A ground-breaking study published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology back in 2008 reported that “Alzheimer’s represents a form of diabetes that selectively involves the brain and has molecular and biochemical features that overlap with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.”

The paper went on to call Alzheimer’s, ‘type 3 diabetes’ – a term now very commonly used among medical professionals. The connection is as follows: in the very same way type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance in the muscle, liver, and fat cells, so too is Alzheimer’s, in part, due to insulin resistance in the brain.

A separate study published in the American medical journal Neurology found that high sugar levels over the long-term were shown to shrink the hippocampus – commonly found in Alzheimer’s patients.

Liver Disease

Perhaps the least publicised health complaint on our list is fatty liver disease. Once again, this particular problem is caused by your body’s least favourite sugar – fructose. As liver cells are the only ones that can break down fructose, they set about turning the sugar into fat in a process called lipogenesis. Over time, and given enough fructose, fat droplets start to accumulate in the liver cells, which ultimately results in non-alcoholic liver disease – so called because the effect is much the same as that which alcohol has on the liver. As with alcohol damage, if left untreated the liver becomes scarred, leading to irreversible cirrhosis and irreparable damage.

Final word

I have often said that the quantity and quality of those bad carbohydrates (read sugar) will determine the length and quality of your life. We are far too casual still in our approach to this awful white drug, but there is no denying its impact on our health, and so we only have ourselves to blame if we choose to ignore the literature. I am not suggesting it is easy to switch from the Western diet to a healthy Paleo-type one, but as a responsible physician, I am not going to offer up any other alternative.

 

Graham-150x150About Dr. Simpson

Graham Simpson, M.D. is the Chief Medical Officer of West-Martin Longevity. He is also the Founder & Medical Director of the innovative Intelligent Health Center, Dubai, UAE.

Dr. Simpson graduated from the University of Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and Age Management Medicine (A4M). He is a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) and is a licensed homeopath. Dr. Simpson has also taught as an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno.

He is the author of WellMan (Live Longer by Controlling Inflammation); co-author of Spa Medicine with Dr. Stephen Sinatra; and the forthcoming Reversing CardioMetabolic Disease.

Dr. Simpson was the Founder of PrimalMD; the Founder of the Eternity Medicine Institute; Paleo4me; and the Inflamaging Physician Network. He is a Consultant to Cenegenics, Inc

He has practiced I.N.T.E.G.R.A.L. Health for many years and remains committed to delivering Proactive Health to physicians and clients around the world.

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