Last week was a tad unsavory and this week it’s bitterly sweet. It felt only natural to follow up last week’s Salt with its sweetheart cousin – sugar! But when I began researching it soon became evident this wasn’t going to be an easy topic to put pen to paper to; the sheer volume of literature and the infinite opinions and debates have made it difficult for me to do justice to the topic in just one article.
Thus I’ve decided to write about Sugar in a slightly different manner. The more I researched, the more frightened I became of the little white granules and the sheer horror it inflicts within our skins. Such that I began having nightmares (I lie not!). I will illustrate in the traditional Medically Fit format next week but for now I want to detail the evils of sugar and why it is something we need to beware. I call it the ‘Sweet Sorrows’ …
the Sweet Sorrows
1) Waist line expansion – It is common belief that because today “playing with a ball” equates to sitting in front of a screen with a remote game console, waistlines are expanding. But the truth is that this is only partially true. Yes for the large part, life today is extremely sedentary and the physical inactivity does us no good but the bigger culprit of piling on of gross poundage is excessive sugar. Sugar is the single leading cause today of the obesity epidemic.
2) Type 2 Diabetes and Heart disease – Where there’s obesity, there are high levels of insulin in the blood and that sets into motion the wheel of disease. Excessive sugar in the blood makes the body resistant or ‘blind’ to the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance in turn causes several metabolic disorders like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Type 2 Diabetes. The Diabetes in turn paves the way for diseases of the eye, heart and a whole host of other bodily dysfunctions. A very interesting yet deadly effect of insulin resistance is that in the brain, cognition and memory are impaired.
3) Brain and psychological damage – The addictive buzz that is characteristic of sugar is due to the surge of Serotonin (a neurotransmitter) release from the brain. Serotonin is what makes you happy! But the effects of this are short-lived. This ‘sugar high’ peaks quickly and then falls just as fast. The ‘crash’ of sugar levels leaves one feeling fatigued, lethargic, irritable and unable to focus. I call this ‘psychoglycemia’. What is most horrifying is that there is now evidence to prove that sugar affects receptors in the brain the same way as illegal and illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin do. Because of this, one becomes dependent and tolerant to sugar. This explains why gradually, you need more of the ‘white stuff’ to get the same ‘high’. Excess sugar over-activates the Serotonin pathways and depletes the supplies of it. This has now led to the suggestion that over-consumption of sugar can be linked to depression. Makes you think about that tub of ice-cream you’ve been digging into to add some cheer into your day/life, doesn’t it?! And if that weren’t enough, there is now growing evidence of a link between excess sugar consumption and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
4) Sleep Deprivation – Ever feel jittery and fidgety in bed. Think back to what you ate in the last 5-6 hours before bedtime and chances are the sugar in your food is what’s keeping you up!
5) Liver – Sugar causes cirrhosis! Now you’re probably thinking I’ve got my facts wrong and it’s alcohol that causes cirrhosis but nope, you heard me correctly. Sugar excess is now the single leading cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease especially in children. In particular the perpetrator is Fructose sugar, which in large quantities is metabolized in the liver to form fat globules.
6) Bowel disease – Disease causing microorganisms (bacteria & fungi) thrive on sugar and in your gut they result in flatulence, irritable bowel syndrome, bad breath, indigestion and decreased absorption of essential nutrients. Basically, eat less sugar so you can properly feed your body. Disturbances of the bowel ultimately result in decreased immunity and this makes one vulnerable to bowel cancers.
7) Hunger – Sugar is a foodless food. What I mean by this is that whilst fats, proteins and complex carbs give you energy through calories and vital nutrients and keep you feeling ‘full’, sugar doesn’t. Sugar is empty calories! Because it peaks very quickly in the bloodstream, the liver removes it and stores as fat to protect the body. Sugar also wreaks havoc in the feedback mechanism of our ‘hunger hormones’ – Ghrelin and Leptin. Ghrelin makes us hungry and Leptin switches off hunger pangs. Sugar negates the effect of Leptin. Cue cravings!
8) Tooth decay – No surprises on this one! If I remember correctly, everyone from my parents to my teachers to my dentist threatened me about the dangers of gorging on candies. Sadly, sugar is not limited to just being in candies. Be aware of the sugar quantities you’re consuming and don’t forget to brush after every meal (if not brush then at least rinse your mouth thoroughly after eating).
9) Sexual health – Sugar is sticky and high quantities of this in your blood vessels makes sticky plaques, which directly interfere with blood circulation (imagine a stone in your house’s plumbing). First effects are seen in body parts that have small, narrow blood vessels. Sugar is now a major cause of erectile dysfunction in men. Further, a 2007 American study found that high levels of glucose and fructose in the diet interferes directly with sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen and resulted in decreased libido.
10) Kidney disease – Our kidneys are extremely clever in the way they manage to filter out waste. They try their best to siphon off the excess sugar we consume but like everything else, too much causes wear & tear and in this case kidney disease. This is extremely dangerous because the kidneys then also fail to excrete other waste products, which may leak back into our bodies and further harm our health.
11) Muscle metabolism – Sugar interferes with muscle repair. Quite the opposite of what most athletes are trying to achieve i.e. ditch those energy sports drinks! There is also strong evidence to suggest that excessive sugar intake causes inflammation in muscles and this results in muscle ache. Further, if you like almost everyone else are trying to lose weight and are working out intensively, excess sugar in your diet will prevent you from building up muscle and you will not see results that you’re sweating and bruising for.
12) Joint damage and Aesthetic ageing – Just like the inflammation it causes in muscle, excess sugar in bone joints too causes inflammation and this in turn results pain. The same inflammation also results in degradation of collagen and elastin in our skin, which is why people that consume high sugar diets have accelerated ageing. They typically have saggy skin and increased wrinkling. Women with PCOS also see other emotionally upsetting skin changes like darkening patches, increased facial hair and male-pattern balding.
It's still sugar!
When you read the above, it’s almost empowering in the sense that you’re sure to be confident as you vow that you will indeed be cutting down dramatically on the little white crystals in your diet. If only it were that easy …
Food manufacturers hide and disguise sugar in nearly every product they’ve ever produced. Few examples of such ‘sneaky-cheeky’ food items include ketchup, pasta sauces, fruit yoghurts, bottled fruit juices and teas, pizza crusts and other savoury baked goods, salad dressings, instant oatmeal, granola bars, energy sports drinks, coleslaw, frozen packaged meals, alcohol, canned foods …. It is EVERYWHERE ! Even if the ingredients’ list doesn’t state the deadly 5-letter word it exists cunningly disguised as:
Did you know that there are infact 56 ways to hide and disguise sugar in the Food & Beverage industry? Daunting isn’t it! How do we get around this and protect ourselves?
For that we need to be fully forewarned so that we can be forearmed.
To be contd. in the next Medically Fit …
Juggling many roles from physician to writer to pilates instructor to Marketing-PR executive, Dr. Daamini is constantly pushed and inspired to get creative on how to encompass a Retreat into her daily life.