The word “inflammation” might conjure up images of a swollen ankle after some missteps on a long hike. But inflammation has also emerged as a key factor in serious diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, diabetes, and a variety of infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS.
So, What Exactly, is Inflammation?
When scientists and researchers discuss inflammation, they’re referring to the body’s natural way of defending itself against tissue damage, as well as against viruses and bacteria. It’s a defensive response governed primarily by the immune system, which dispatches white blood cells to the affected sites, resulting in redness and swelling or symptoms such as fever.
But they’re also talking about how, sometimes, the immediate, or acute, immune response isn’t enough to clear those viruses. At that point, the inflammation becomes chronic, resulting in harm to the body. (1)
Sugar in Your Diet Causes Inflammation in the Body
It is a proven fact that when we consume excessive amounts of sugar, it can cause metabolic disorders and induce the increase of inflammatory mediators and certain pro-inflammatory cytokines in various tissues, which leads to insulin resistance and low-grade chronic inflammation. (2)
Whether people want to acknowledge this fact or not, high sugar intake is recognized as a potential risk factor for increased incidence of many non-communicable diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. We know this to be true, yet people still refuse to quit eating added sugars in the diet, but then complain about how they feel poorly.
In western society, the consumption of high sugar beverages and processed foods has increased significantly over the past 30 years, as has also the rate of obesity. We have written countless articles about the inflammatory effects of sugar, and we have strongly emphasized how dietary sugars and processed foods are a key factor leading to the occurrence and aggravation of inflammation. But I am not confident that most people who have read these articles truly understand the impact of inflammation in their bodies. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times when discussing weight loss that people have become peeved when we recommend that they give up their sugar. It boggles my mind to tell you the truth, especially when they go on to complain about the high cost of healthcare in our modern world.
Since the 1970s, the amount of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has increased in foods that are common within the Western diet. The United States currently is the major user of HFCS, but HFCS is now produced throughout the world with factories on every continent except for Antarctica. The consumption of these sugars, particularly in sugary soft beverages (SSB), became a major contributor to sugar intake, and the relationship between SSB and cardiometabolic diseases reflects the potential effects of fructose and glucose. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the consumption of soft drinks per capita in the United States had increased by about 500% over the past 50 years. (2)
Are you aware that the average American eats 126 grams of sugar a day, and it’s likely that children consume even more?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic inflammatory diseases are the leading causes of death worldwide. These researchers discovered that:
- 60% of Americans have at least one chronic inflammatory condition
- 42% of Americans have more than 1 chronic inflammatory condition
- 12% of American adults have 5 or more chronic inflammatory conditions
- Worldwide 3 out of 5 people die from chronic inflammatory diseases, including stroke, respiratory diseases, heart disorders, cancer, obesity, and diabetes
In societies that consume traditional diets that are extremely low in sugars, and high in animal-based fats and protein, these inflammatory diseases are virtually non-existent
How Sugar Causes Inflammation
When people eat and drink sugar, it causes our bodies to release insulin and stress hormones. These chemicals, in turn, trigger inflammation, which is one of the most common causes of chronic pain.
One of the studied ways that sugar directly contributes to chronic inflammation is through the process of glycation.
Glycation takes place when sugar molecules bind to proteins, fats, RNA, and DNA.
This binding creates toxic compounds called Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) that have been shown to cause inflammation and oxidative stress. Over time a diet high in sugar causes these toxic AGEs to accumulate in various tissues resulting in chronic diseases.
Recent studies have revealed that diets high in sugar promote the growth of harmful proteobacteria in the gut. While at the same time sugar reduces beneficial bacteroidetes.
Bacteriodetes protect the gut by defending against endotoxins while reinforcing the gut membrane.
By both attacking and weakening the gut membrane, sugar promotes intestinal permeability, AKA leaky gut. Leaky gut allows plant toxins, sugars, and food particles to enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body leading to inflammatory immune response.
To add even more insult to injury, inflammation also occurs when the body sends white blood cells to an area of injury or infection. The white blood cells then go to work protecting and healing the affected area. This sudden influx of cells to a single place causes swelling, redness, and tenderness. Now consider the fact that the sugar you consume causes “injury” throughout your entire body…
Common signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation include:
- depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders
- body pain
- constant fatigue and insomnia
- constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, and other digestive issues
- weight gain
- frequent infections
People with chronic inflammation develop an increased risk of diabetes, depression, and dementia.
The consumption of sugar promotes chronic inflammation which is a natural response to bodily harm. This inflammation can become chronic when it continues even in the absence of injury.
The parts of our bodies where we have the least amount of blood circulation are at greatest risk of inflammation. That is why the joints and back are common chronic pain points and can be the most dramatically impacted by sugar consumption.
The “Canary in a Coal Mine” for you as a result of sugar consumption is when you begin to suffer from tense, painful muscles and joints. When these symptoms appear, you can bet there is an inflammation problem that isn’t going to get better on its own.
As a rule, people who live on only healthy foods are not usually prone to weight gain. When you have been eating foods of poor nutritional values, which include added sugars you will become overweight at some point in the future if you are not already there.
If you’re overweight, you’ve got an inflammation problem. Period.
How to Decrease Inflammation in Your Body
Lifestyle changes, such as quitting your intake of sugary and processed foods, can lead to lower inflammation levels in the body. Stop consuming those low nutrition, high calorie food choices you make, and replace them with whole, unprocessed foods for improved insulin resistance, improved cholesterol levels and reduced blood pressure, all of which are related to inflammation you have caused within your body.
To sum this all up:
- Limit processed foods and drinks: By reducing or eliminating these products, you’ll naturally exclude key sources of added sugar like soda, cakes, cookies and candy, as well as white bread, pasta and white rice.
- Read food labels: If you are unsure about certain products, get into the habit of reading food labels. Look out for ingredients like sucrose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose and dextrose.
- Choose whole-grain carbs: These include oats, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa and barley. They have lots of fiber and antioxidants, which can help control blood sugar and protect against inflammation.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which can protect against and reduce inflammation in the body.
- Eat lots of antioxidant-rich foods: Fill your plate with foods rich in antioxidants, which naturally help counteract inflammation. These include nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish and olive oil.
- Keep active: Regular physical activity, including both aerobic and resistance exercise, can help protect against weight gain and inflammation.
- Manage stress levels: Learning to manage stress levels through relaxation techniques and even exercise can help reduce inflammation. (3)
Now that you have learned what to do, put these lessons into action!
(1) Yale Medicine