Mention inflammation and most people will think of the acute variety which happens when you cut or injure yourself. Inflammation occurs when your immune system dispatches an army of white blood cells to surround and protect an injured area, thereby creating visible redness and swelling. The process works similarly if you have an infection like the flu or pneumonia. So in these circumstances, inflammation is actually essential—without it, injuries could fester and simple infections can become deadly.
But for the purpose of this article, I am addressing the chronic variety of inflammation that occurs as a result of unwanted substances in the body, specifically sugar.
When you have chronic inflammation it helps kick off atherosclerosis—the buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque inside of your arteries. Our body’s perceive this plaque as abnormal and foreign, therefore it attempts to wall off the plaque from the flowing blood. When that wall breaks down, the plaque may rupture and then mingle with your blood. When this happens a blood clot forms that blocks the flow of blood. These clots are responsible for the majority of heart attacks and most strokes.
Studies confirm the link between added sugar and higher inflammatory markers.
Consuming excess added sugar and refined carbohydrates causes several changes in the body, which help explain why a diet high in sugar can lead to chronic, low-grade inflammation.
Excess production of AGEs:
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are harmful compounds that form when protein or fat combine with sugar in the bloodstream. Too many AGEs leads to oxidative stress and inflammation.
Increased gut permeability:
Bacteria, toxins and undigested food particles can more easily move out of the gut and into the bloodstream, potentially leading to inflammation.
Higher “bad” LDL cholesterol:
Excess LDL cholesterol has been associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.
A diet rich in added sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to weight gain. Excess body fat has been linked to inflammation, partly due to insulin resistance.
Of course, common sense tells us that other factors such as stress, medication, smoking and excess fat intake can also lead to inflammation, but the consumption of sugar significantly increases the amount of inflammation in your body. Observational studies in humans have linked high added sugar and refined carbohydrate intake to many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and more. A large study involving more than 75,000 women found that those who consumed a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates had up to a 98% greater risk of heart disease, compared to women with the lowest intake of refined carbs.
Another study looking at the diets of over 35,000 women found that those who consumed the most sugary foods and drinks had double the risk of developing colon cancer, compared to those who consumed a diet with the least added sugar. It is believed that the increased risk of cancer may be due to the inflammatory effect of sugar. In the long-term, inflammation caused by sugar may damage DNA and body cells. Some experts also believe that chronically high insulin levels, which can result from consuming too much sugar, may also play a role in cancer development.
Obesity is often referred to as a low-grade inflammatory disease. Eating too much added sugar is linked to weight gain and obesity.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is very often high in refined carbs and added sugar, which can lead directly to an imbalance in gut bacteria which can lead to obesity. Excess sugar’s impact on obesity and diabetes has been extensively documented over the years.
Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugary beverages, also contributes to weight gain by tricking your body into turning off its appetite-control system because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods. This is why it is easier for people to add more calories to their regular diet when consuming sugary beverages. The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. A high intake of added sugar and refined carbs has been linked to the development of other diseases, such as liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, mental decline, arthritis and others. In particular, excess fructose consumption has been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
It’s important to note that there is a difference between added sugar and natural sugar.
Added sugar is removed from its original source and added to foods and drinks to serve as a sweetener or increase shelf life.
- brown sugar
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrates
- high-fructose corn syrup
- invert sugar
- malt sugar
- syrup sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose
Reading food labels is one of the best ways to monitor your intake of added sugar. Look for the following names for added sugar and try to either avoid, or cut back on the amount or frequency of the foods where they are found.
Breaking the cycle!
Weight loss and calorie restriction have been shown to decrease inflammation and increase insulin sensitivity in people who have been medically advised to lose excess weight. Obesity is often part of a difficult cycle, but breaking this cycle is not impossible. Understanding the link between inflammation and obesity can also be a way of arriving at a new approach to health and weight loss. An excess of weight often equals more inflammation which can cause a cascade of hormonal adaptations that disrupt your body’s hunger signaling. Inflammation knocks the body out of balance. A healthy and balanced lifestyle is key to returning the body back to health and equilibrium. The best and most effective component to returning your body back to a healthy one is by the removal of all added sugars from your diet.