Health Hint! – How Sugar Can Lead to Inflammation

Sep 1, 2021

Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness.  We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities so our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life.  Check out our latest Health Hint on the impacts of sugar on inflammation in our bodies.  We hope you find it helpful.  If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities. 

When it comes to chronic inflammation, sugar is one of the commonly seen culprits. There are many diseases associated with high blood sugar, insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and hypertension. Inflammation is a hot topic these days, especially as it relates to what we eat. We know that fresh, unprocessed foods like berries, olive oil, salmon, and leafy green vegetables can help our bodies avoid chronic inflammation (that’s what happens when our body’s defensive response persists and keeps us in a constant state of alert). Chronic inflammation is known to damage our health: it’s linked to many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. There are many foods that increase inflammation, and one of the most common is sugar. High sugar in the diet can certainly lead to chronic, mild inflammation that can lead to chronic disease.

There are several ways that sugar can cause inflammation in the body. Here are four of the most harmful reactions:

  • Sugar produces harmful compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs when proteins or fats bind to sugars in our blood. Too much of this can lead to inflammation.
  • The lining of our gut becomes more permeable, which makes it easier for bacteria and other inflammatory particles to enter our bloodstream.
  • Sugar and other inflammatory foods can cause our bad (LDL) cholesterol to rise, leading to more C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is also a marker of inflammation.
  • Sugar can lead to weight gain, which can lead to excess body fat, which can lead to insulin resistance. The result? You guessed it: inflammation. When the body consumes too much sugar, it not only leads to obesity, it also increases the risk of chronic inflammation, which is one of the reasons why some people are prone to inflammation. If this is your situation, make sure you start adjusting your eating habits.  The main reason for this is insulin resistance caused by a high sugar diet. (Caporuscio, 2019)

Eating foods high in sugar, such as refined sugars and carbohydrates causes our blood sugar to rise rapidly. When blood sugar rises, insulin is released from the pancreas to move blood sugar from the blood into the cells and the surge of insulin causes blood sugar to drop rapidly and cortisol to rise. High blood sugar causes an increase in the antilipopolysis hormone, one of the sugars cortisol, which suppresses the immune system, lowers the immune system, thus spreads inflammation.

These rapid fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin produce inflammatory cytokines that cause inflammation, and inflammatory cytokines disrupt insulin signaling leading to increased insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar.

This increases insulin resistance and cells that reject insulin can’t metabolize the glucose that’s circulating in the blood properly, thus the body produces more insulin which causes inflammation in the body.

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are produced when your blood sugar is chronically elevated due to poor eating habits and insulin resistance. High levels of AGEs can also increase inflammation and oxidative stress, which can damage tissue.

The primary way to avoid this chain reaction from occurring is to reduce your sugar intake.  This can be easier said than done as sugar is hidden in many foods.  When people think of sugar they think of cookies, ice cream, and other treats.  But those are just a few of the foods that have sugar in them.  Sugar can also be found in sauces, condiments, cereals, breads and more. 

The key is to become aware of the sugar content in the food you ingest and, when possible, find appropriate reduced sugar alternatives.  Start by reading the food or ingredient label. As part of a healthy diet, we should limit our intake of added sugars to no more than 10% of our total daily calories. Added sugar can be easier to avoid if you have the right tools to monitor it. When it comes to cutting back on sugar, it’s recommended to replace it with a natural substitute.

Learning to reduce your sugar intake is a process and you likely won’t just stop eating it all together, but just focus on making small changes at a time.  Every little bit counts, and you will notice changes as you stay consistent with it.  Great things can happen to your body when you stop eating sugar!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest Health Hint!

Written by: An Lin Chen

NOTE: This article is intended to provide general health tips based on available research. You should consult with a health care professional for specific medical and dietary instructions that are right for you.

References

Caporuscio, J. (n.d.). Does sugar cause inflammation? What the research says. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326386.

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