Sugar the Oh So Sweet Villain
by Mark J. Kaylor
Why are we still talking about sugar? You would think that with all we know about the health costs associated with excess sugar consumption, we would all be eating less. This is not the case. While the American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 teaspoons a day (a ﬁgure I believe is still too high), the average American still consumes about 20 teaspoons. This adds up to 130 pounds of sugar every year with a whopping 3,550 pounds consumed over a lifetime. Sugar remains the largest source of calories in the US.
How Big is the Threat?
So how big of a concern is sugar consumption? In a recent statement, the UN Secretary General said that conditions associated with sugar and carbohydrate consumption, such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and heart disease are a bigger threat to the entire world than infectious disease. Roughly 35 million people die each year from these diseases. And there are 30% more obese folks than there are undernourished ones. Today, about one in twenty of us suffer from diabetes. By 2030, in the US, that ratio could be as high as one in three.
While many of us think we don’t eat any sugar, it is often added to or hidden in processed foods under an assortment of names (see image on page 12). You will ﬁnd sugar in breads, sauces, dressings and virtually every other processed food. We also need to beware the “healthier” sounding fructose (sounds a lot like fruit). While it does not spike your blood sugar like glucose does, due to the way it is metabolized, it creates a whole other series of health concerns.
Sugars Evil Twin
A leading concern with the consumption of fructose is that it turns off leptin, the hormone that tells you when you are full. Excess fructose consumption is also associated with fatty liver, elevated triglycerides, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, clogged arteries and insulin resistance. By raising uric acid production, fructose may also increase one’s risk for gout, hypertension and kidney stones. In the US, about half of our sugar consumption is fructose. It is important to mention here that I’m talking the isolated concentrated fructose, as seen in high fructose corn syrup, not the naturally occurring fructose that is found in fruits.
Sugar, the Consequences
Let’s get right to it. First, there is no need to consume reﬁned sugar. Second, there is no nutritional necessity or justiﬁcation for eating it. Sugar is a pointless food; nothing but empty calories.
The number of health concerns associated with sugar consumption is too long to list here. Leading consequences include Alzheimer’s disease, negative behavior, dental issues, cardiovascular disease, aging before your time and, of course, obesity and diabetes. In fact, drinking one serving a week of a sugary beverage raises one’s risk for diabetes by 15%. Many of the health concerns associated with excess sugar consumption are related to its capacity to increase inﬂammation, oxidative stress (free radical damage), glycation (a process whereby sugar binds to various proteins in the body causing them to malfunction) and insulin resistance.
Sugar and Cancer
Sugar and corresponding insulin resistance are often overlooked as leading contributors to increasing one’s risk for cancer, as well as malignancy and recurrence. Studies suggest that malignant cancers are relatively rare in communities that don’t eat the high sugar, high carbohydrate Standard American Diet, a.k.a. SAD. A study published in the leading cancer journal concluded that eating reﬁned carbohydrates and sugars dramatically increases one’s risk for breast cancer. It also found that recurrence is twice as likely if reﬁned carbohydrates and sugar intake stays the same or increases after surgery. In general, diets that consist of a large amount of foods that are high on the glycemic index are associated with greater risk of developing cancer.
Since over-consumption of sugar is to a large degree a diet issue, the answer is correspondingly a diet one as well. It’s actually really simple, but not very easy for most of us. Stop eating reﬁned sugar and carbohydrates. Focusing on a plant-based, whole foods diet will take care of this and bring with it a wide array of health and healing beneﬁts. That’s not to say there aren’t some natural remedies that can help us keep our blood sugar under control…there are.
Chromium — This mineral is essential for insulin activity. Unfortunately, it has been estimated to be deﬁcient in up to 50% of the US population. Multiple studies conﬁrm it improves blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity by improving the cells communications. Not surprisingly, when you consider sugar’s damaging effects on the body, chromium was able to improve lifespan in one animal study. My preferred chromium is chromium polynicotinate.
SX-Fraction — What makes this unique extraction of the Maitake mushroom so promising is that, in clinical studies, it has demonstrated effectiveness at lowering the twin culprits of high blood sugar and insulin levels. Studies have found that it can signiﬁcantly lower the important measure of long term sugar levels, HbA1c. The clinical evidence suggests it works by improving insulin sensitivity. Evidence of this is seen in its cardiovascular activities, i.e. lowering cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides and blood pressure while improving HDL levels. In fact, it was found even more effective than a leading pharmaceutical in a comparison study.
Glucomannan or PGX — Four to ﬁve grams of this highly viscous ﬁber can reduce the after meal insulin spike by ~50%. A double blind study found that when one gram was taken before meals, the individuals lost 5.5 pounds over 8 weeks. PGX is an even more viscous ﬁber blend. A clinical trial showed it reduced after meal blood sugar spike by 23% and after meal insulin release by 40%, while improving insulin sensitivity by over 55%. There are a number of other promising blood sugar battling allies including Green Coffee Bean, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Carnosine, Banaba Leaf, Cinnamon (water soluble extract) and Bitter Melon.
The Time to Act is Now
It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not just diagnosed high blood sugar at issue. A growing body of evidence suggests that even high normal blood sugar levels may be problematic. A study of nearly 2,000 men covering 22 years found that fasting glucose levels over 85 yielded a 40% greater risk of death and cardiovascular disease. The bottom line is that excess sugar and insulin are major contributors to many diseases and even mortality. One study found that high blood sugar levels doubled one’s all-cause mortality over 10 years. The time to act is now. Give up the sweets, move more, embrace a whole foods diet and profoundly impact your health and healing.