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The Impact of sugar on Mental Health

Important Points:

  • Sugar
  • Mental Health
  • Dopamine
  • Inflammation
  • Brain

The Impact of sugar on Mental Health

When enjoying your tasty donut, the last thing on your mind is your long-term mental health. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that you should be thinking of just that. Most of us know the harm of too much sugar on our physical health in recognizing that it can cause obesity, wide-spread inflammation, and poor dental health and lead to diabetes, but few understand the significant impact of a high sugar diet on our mental health. In this article, we will at how a diet filled with too many sweeteners, such as sugar, honey, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup and molasses can have a detrimental impact on mental well-being.

Sugar and mental health: A toxic combination?

We all know how diet affects your physical health, but did you know that it can also have lasting effects on your mental health?  Regular consumption of meals high in sugar can affect your brain, increasing your risk of developing mental illnesses and mood disorders like depression.

The science of sugar

Sugars are simple, soluble carbohydrates essential for cell and organ functioning. Our bodies have the ability to break complex carbohydrate molecules into simple sugars so it is not necessary to take in sugar in its simple form.

Taking in excess sugar

Neurons are very sensitive cells and are not well prepared for sugar level spikes. A study by researchers from the Department of Neurobiology at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, performed on diabetic rats showed that high blood glucose, a simple sugar, led to inflammation and neuronal damage and death in the brain which suggests that people with diabetes are at risk for neuronal damage.

What is the link between sugar consumption and mental health?

1. Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural process which helps the body protect itself from damage and also aids in the healing process. Regular consumption of refined carbohydrates and added sugars triggers inflammatory responses that can cause inflammation in the brain and lead to depression.

2. Stress responses

After consumption of a high sugar meal, the hormone insulin is produced to regulate the high blood sugar level and in removing the excess sugar to the cell can actually lower the blood sugar level to below normal. This is called hypoglycemia. A lower than normal blood sugar level will trigger the hunger signal which sets one up for a cycle of sugar addiction. Hypoglycemia may show itself by triggering several stress responses including a feeling of instability (“having the shakes”) confusion, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

High insulin levels can also cause an imbalance of hormone estrogen and progesterone, the balance of which is important in keeping us happy and calm.

3. Obesity and depression

High consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar is associated with excess body weight and obesity. Overweight and obese people are more likely than people with a healthy weight to suffer depression as obesity can cause poor self-image, low self-esteem and social isolation, all known contributors of depression.

4. High release of dopamine

Due to the powerful impact sugar has on mesolimbic dopamine system — the brain’s reward system — sweet foods are highly desirable. Just like drugs, sugar can activate this reward system causing release of dopamine, a chemical that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure center making you crave for more sugar to keep you feeling good. Short term surges in dopamine can be pleasurable, but high concentrations can cause depression and attention deficit disorder.

5. Increased risk of mental illnesses

Brain derived neurotrophic factor is a protein that promotes survival of nerve cells and cognitive function. A diet rich in fats and refined sugar is associated with a low brain derived neurotrophic factor increasing the risk of psychiatric disorders and depression.

6. Starving the Brain

When you consume excessive sugar, a lot of insulin is produced to push this sugar into cells for energy production. The resultant dip in blood sugar can alarm the body and the adrenal glands, making them work over time.  These glands are charged with producing cortisol and fight or flight chemicals that can get your heart racing, and rev up anxiety, and cortisol can promote insulin resistance.  This will make you consume more sugar, which will inflict more suffering on your brain and potentially even putting you at risk for Alzheimer’s dementia down the line.

7. Disrupting Hormones

When cortisol is in demand for its blood-sugar balancing effects, or because of other psychological or bodily stressors, the body “shunts” the production of progesterone to support further cortisol output. This makes evolutionary sense because if we are under stressful circumstances, preserving progesterone, our “pro-gestational” reproductive hormone, becomes secondary. Insulin can also stimulate production of DHEA and sex hormones including testosterone, which can drive the pathology we see with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Sugars have also been demonstrated to reduce liver production of sex hormone binding globulin, freeing up testosterone and estrogen in ways that may promote symptoms of estrogen dominance including premenstrual moodiness and irritability.

What effect does sugar have on mental conditions?

  • Depression & Schizophrenia: The rapid fluctuation of blood sugar can worsen mood disorders. Research has shown that high sugar can lead to an increased risk of depression and even worse outcomes in patients with schizophrenia. Interestingly, countries with high sugar intake also have correspondingly high rates of depression.
  • Anxiety: Although sugar does not increase your risk of anxiety, it can worsen your symptoms and weaken the body’s ability to respond to stress. By minimizing sugar, you can lessen the severity of anxiety symptoms, improve mood and improve the body’s ability to cope with stress.
  • Addiction: There’s a growing evidence of sugar’s addictive potential. Drugs and sugar both flood the brain with the “feel-good” chemical dopamine. In studies, rats have been shown to prefer sugar-water over cocaine, and they also display classic signs of addiction including tolerance and withdrawal when the sugary products are removed.
  • Learning & Memory: Sugar can affect how and how much we learn and remember. After six weeks of drinking a fructose solution, much like soda, rats “forgot” how to find their way out of a maze. Insulin resistance from a high sugar diet can damage communications between brain cells involved in learning and memory formation.

How do we avoid the pitfalls of sugar?

How easy is it to avoid sugar? We are bombarded with advertisements for convenience foods and tasty treats. But even seemingly healthful foods can have high levels of hidden sugars. Breakfast cereals, sauces (including ketchup and pasta sauce), flavored milks, whole-meal bread, and many products labeled as low fat, such as fruit yogurts are such culprits.

Smoothies and fruit juices for children were in the spotlight last year in an article published in BMJ Open. It was noted that over 40 percent of products surveyed contained at least 19 grams of sugar – a child’s entire maximum daily amount of free sugars. High sugar levels have also been reported in baby and toddler food products.

Always remember to check the nutritional labels. While the list of ingredients might claim no added sugars, the nutrition facts panel will show the amount of carbohydrates and sugars in the product.

What is the evidence that cutting down on sugars will have health benefits? Studies have shown that individuals who experience depression benefit from eating a healthful diet. The next time a low mood threatens to spoil your day, remember where sugar is hidden in plain sight and look to other tasty treats to lift you out of the doldrums.

Do we need to limit our sugar?      

Our bodies and minds were not designed to take in such immense amounts of sugar that has become the norm in American society. Thanks to ongoing research, we are more and more aware of the intricate link between diet and wellness. It has a significant role to play in both physical and mental health. Grappling with mental illness is difficult enough without having additional obstacles in your way. Make sure sugar isn’t making your situation harder than it needs to be.

Additionally, choosing foods that are low in refined ingredients, such as sugar, but high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals can relieve the symptoms of depression. Scientists think that the power of these foods lies in promoting good brain health.

References:

  1. Everhealth (2012): The Impact of Sugar on Mental Health. Retrieved from

http://everhealth.net/patient-education/the-impact-of-sugar-on-mental-health

  • Medical News Today (2017):Sugar and mental health: A toxic combination? Retrieved from

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318818.php

  • Kelly Brogan:3 Ways Sugar Is Ruining Your Mental Health. Retrieved from
https://kellybroganmd.com/3-ways-sugar-ruining-mental-health/
  • Neuroscience (2017):Sugar is Not So Sweet For Mental Health. Retrieved from

https://neurosciencenews.com/sugar-mental-health-7194/

  • Standard Media (2018):The link between sugar and mental illnesses. Retrieved from

https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001282656/link-between-sugar-and-mental-illnesses

  • NCBI (2014):Nod-like receptor protein 1 inflammasome mediates neuron injury under high glucose. Retrieved from

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24014157

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Sugar: Is it bad for kids’ learning and behavior?

Important Points:

  • Sugar
  • Behavior
  • Learning
  • Brain
  • Memory

Sugar: Is it bad for kids’ learning and behavior?

The effect of sugar intake on children’s behavior is a hotly debated topic in pediatrics. Parents and educators often contend that sugar and other carbohydrate ingestion can dramatically impact children’s behavior, particularly their activity levels. Physicians, on the other hand, have looked at controlled studies of sugar intake and have not found hypoglycemia or other blood sugar abnormalities in the children who are consuming large amounts of sugar. So how do sugar and behavior go together?

What effects of sugar make it harmful?

Diets high in refined sugar and saturated fat not only contribute to weight gain and associated health issues, but also have a profoundly detrimental impact on brain function.

It is known that excessive consumption of sugar damages areas of the brain essential for learning and memory processes. Neurons in brain regions, including the hippocampus, that encode memories no longer work efficiently leading to poorer learning.

Recent research in rodents has shown the adolescent brain is at an increased risk of developing diet-induced cognitive dysfunction. Teenage rats that drank sugary beverages were less able to remember a specific location leading to an escape hatch. This was compared to adult rats drinking sugary beverages, and teenage rats that had low-sugar diets.

The brains of the adolescent sugar-diet rats also showed increased levels of inflammation in the hippocampus, disrupting learning and memory function. Inflammation in the brain can contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.

What effect does sugar have on learning?

  • Sugar slows down the brain

2012 study on rats, conducted by researchers at UCLA, found that a diet high in fructose (that’s just another word for sugar) hinders learning and memory by literally slowing down the brain. The researchers found that rats who over-consumed fructose had damaged synaptic activity in the brain, meaning that communication among brain cells was impaired.

Heavy sugar intake caused the rats to develop a resistance to insulin — a hormone that controls blood sugar levels and also regulates the function of brain cells. Insulin strengthens the synaptic connections between brain cells, helping them to communicate better and thereby form stronger memories. So when insulin levels in the brain are lowered as the result of excess sugar consumption, cognition can be impaired.

  • Sugar Decreases Attention Span and Memory

It’s been well documented that sugar activates the brain’s pleasure response, but scientists are discovering that it impacts the brain in a variety of other ways.

When people consume a lot of sugar and then attempt challenging tasks, like math problems, the brain’s hypothalamus allows the body to release a lot of cortisol, or stress hormone, which impedes memory. When children’s bodies are flooded with cortisol at school, they struggle to pay attention to their lessons and find it difficult to sit quietly. When their attention is elsewhere, they find it difficult to retain information they’re taught.

  • Chronic Sugar Consumption Might Permanently Impair Memory Functions

In the short term, sugar consumption will only impair memory temporarily, so if children reduce their consumption, they should find that they can reach their actual academic potential. Some studies suggest that overindulging in sugar early may have a long-lasting effect.

Researchers from the University of Southern California fed adult and adolescent rats beverages with sugar levels comparable to that found in ordinary sodas. After a month, the adults showed normal brain function. However, the adolescent rats showed reduced memory and learning capacity. In addition to reduced memory levels, these rats also had inflamed hippocampi. This part of the brain is crucial for forming memories and organizing and storing memories.

If sugar can impact young rats in this way, what’s it doing to your child?

  • Sugary Foods Crowd Out Brain Food

When sugar moves into the digestive tract, it sends a signal to the brain to tell the body that it’s full. So it makes sense that researchers from Pennsylvania State University have found that the more added sugar children consume, the less likely they are to eat healthy brain foods like grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products.

Sugar and moods in children

Extreme levels of sugar in children can cause interference with neurotransmitters responsible for keeping moods stable. This often leads to depression and anxiety in children. Moreover, high sugar levels can cause inflammation of cells in an area of the brain known as hippocampus. This area plays a critical role in organizing and storing memories as well as connecting senses and emotions to those memories.

While this is a topic that’s still controversial, sugar has an addictive effect on children and adults alike. Like drugs, sugar floods the brain with dopamine, a feel good chemical, thus interfering with normal functioning of the brain. A study conducted at Yale University found that simple sight of a milkshake activated the same reward centers of the brain as cocaine does with addicts. In fact, another study conducted in 2007 found that study subjects (rats) preferred sugar water to cocaine.

If you notice behavior changes or mood swings in your child, consider keeping a food journal. Track what they eat and when they exhibit concerning behavior. Try eliminating suspicious foods to see if the behavior changes. While food isn’t the cause of all behavioral issues and conditions, it’s important to make sure that your child is not suffering from something that can be easily remedied.

The teenage brain and sugar

The teenage brain undergoes major developmental changes in terms of structure and function. Brain-imaging studies show that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully mature until the early 20s. A major role of the prefrontal cortex is performing executive functions which encompasses behavioral control, attention and decision-making.

Excessive consumption of sugar during adolescence could derail normal brain maturation processes, and may alter normal development trajectories, leading to enduring behavioral predispositions.

Poor regulation of the prefrontal cortex during adolescence can explain the increased risk taking behaviors in teenagers, including dangerous driving, drug use, and binge drinking.

Changes in the brain caused by overconsumption of sugary foods during adolescence can manifest in later life as difficulty in experiencing reward. Research has shown male rats that drank sugar water during adolescence showed reduced motivation and enjoyment of rewards when they were adults. These behaviors are core features of mood disorders including depression. Importantly, this shows that how we eat during adolescence can impact brain function as adults.

How much sugar is OK?

Limiting your child’s sugar intake is essential for helping them achieve their academic potential. The American Heart Association recommends that children have no more than four teaspoons of sugar a day. Children younger than 2 years should have no sugar at all.

While calculating sugar intake, it’s important to note that every 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon. Also, be aware of the hidden sugars hiding in unexpected places like sauces, dried fruits, and flavored yogurts.

A recent study supports the idea that a breakfast with a lower sugar load may improve short-term memory and attention span at school. Giving your child a breakfast which contains fiber (oatmeal, shredded wheat, berries, bananas, whole-grain pancakes, etc.) instead of loads of refined sugar should keep adrenaline levels more constant and make the school day a more wondrous and productive experience. Packing her/his lunch box with delicious fiber-containing treats (whole-grain breads, peaches, grapes, a myriad of other fresh fruits, etc.) may turn afternoons at home into a delight.

References

  1. The Conversation (2016):  Why sugar is so much worse for teenagers’ brains. Retrieved from

https://theconversation.com/why-sugar-is-so-much-worse-for-teenagers-brains-67238

  • Arizona Ob Gyn Associates (2015):  How Sugar Affects a Childs Brain. Retrieved from
http://www.aoafamily.com/blog/how-sugar-affects-a-childs-brain/
  • The Centre for Parenting Education (2019): Sugar and our children…What’s the deal? Retrieved from

https://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/nutrition-and-healthy-lifestyle/sugar-and-our-childrenwhats-the-deal/

  • Huffpost (2015): This Is What Sugar Does To Your Brain. Retrieved from

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sugar-brain-mental-health_n_6904778?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cDovL2FudGlvY2hzY2hvb2wub3JnL2pvb21sYV9hbnRpb2NoL2luZGV4LnBocC9hYm91dC9lZHVjYXRpb25hbC1pbnNpZ2h0cy1ibG9nLzE0OS1zdWdhci1zLWltcGFjdC1vbi1sZWFybmluZw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAFsBtTnbZx3d2NGKWFe4eDqZpvjkcB9wb96aSnLjPfMT6VH1AGCwzu2qaKdtkVDkck1UD_6OJLtAn3lHcXurunUS7Sc3SbRwPKuTSHQ-iTY17CjcRKvvXCTIkWL73Tl3QgiOm-o6YSkt9yOGkps6rCVM7YYIjMudAdW3agIqhrCp

  • Verywell Mind (2017):  Negative Impact of Sugar on the Brain. Retrieved from

https://www.verywellmind.com/how-sugar-affects-the-brain-4065218

  • Learning Liftoff (2016): The Effects of Sugar on a Child’s Academic Performance. Retrieved from

https://www.learningliftoff.com/the-effects-of-sugar-on-a-childs-academic-performance/

  • Dr Greene (2018):  The Relationship between Sugar and Behavior in Children. Retrieved from

https://www.drgreene.com/relationship-sugar-behavior-children/

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What’s on your plate? Does overeating cause diabetes?

Important Points:

  • Diabetes
  • Diet
  • Sugar
  • Physical activity
  • Obesity

What’s on your plate? Does overeating cause diabetes?

We live in the modern-day age of convenience where everything is available to us at the touch of a button. A study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine proves that obesity and Type 2 diabetes are even more closely linked to high-calorie diets than was initially thought. According to the findings of the research, overeating can tip your body into a pre-diabetic state in less than a week. This article seeks to shed some light on some of our eating habits and how they might lead us down a path of chronic illness.

1. Diabetes Mellitus and Diet

Diabetes exists in two forms: type-1 and type-2, and approximately 95% of all cases are type-2. It is not known what the exact cause of type-1 diabetes is, but type-2 has been attributed to poor diet and a lack of exercise.

Both types present with excess glucose, or blood sugar, in their blood that is not removed by the hormone called insulin as it should be. In type-2 diabetics, fat, liver, and muscle cells no longer respond correctly to insulin creating an insulin resistance. Symptoms of type-2 diabetes can include fatigue, hunger, increased thirst, blurred vision, erectile dysfunction, increased urination, and slower healing. Notably, people diagnosed with type-2 diabetes are more likely to be overweight because excess fat makes it more difficult for the body to correctly utilize insulin.

Diabetes mellitus (DM) was first recognized as a disease around 3000 years ago by the ancient Egyptians and Indians, illustrating some clinical features very similar to what we now know as diabetes. DM is a combination of two words, “diabetes” Greek word derivative, means siphon – to pass through and the Latin word “mellitus” means honeyed or sweet. In 1776, excess sugar in blood and urine was first confirmed in Great Britain.

2. The Role of Diet in Type 2 Diabetes

In India, a startling observation was made. The disease was almost always confined to rich people who consumed oil, flour, and sugar in excessive amounts. This was further proved by the First and Second World Wars, where declines in the diabetes mortality rates were documented due to food shortage and famines in the countries such as Germany and other European countries. In Berlin, the diabetes mortality rate declined from 23.1/100,000 in 1914 to 10.9/100,000 in 1919. Adversely, there was no change in diabetes mortality rate in other countries that did not experience food shortage at the same period such as Japan and North American countries.

Though consumption of carbohydrates has been shown to increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, sugar is a more harmful culprit. In a 19-month study that involved more than 500 ethnically diverse schoolchildren, it was found that for each additional serving of carbonated drinks consumed, the frequency of obesity increased. This was after adjusting for different parameters such as dietary, demographic, anthropometric, and lifestyle.

Recent evidence suggests a link between the intake of soft drinks and obesity and diabetes, principally as a result of large amounts of high fructose corn syrup used in the manufacturing of these drinks. They have the potential to raise blood glucose levels and BMI to the dangerous levels. It was also noted that diet soft drinks contain glycated chemicals that significantly boost insulin resistance.

There has been a strong link between some foods and obesity; both the composition and volume of food matter in this case. High intake of red meat, sweets, and fried foods contribute to the increased risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes. Inversely, consumption of vegetables may protect against the development of Type 2 Diabetes, as they are rich in nutrients, fiber and antioxidants which are considered a protective barrier against the diseases.

A recent study of Japanese women, revealed that elevated intake of white rice was associated with an elevated risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Dietary knowledge is a significant factor that influences dietary behaviors.

3. How to Decrease our Chances of Getting Diabetes

  • Avoid Fast Food

Several studies have shown that fast-food consumption can further the development of type-2 diabetes. A 2013 study published in the “European Journal of Nutrition” set out to clarify the role of dietary patterns in the onset of type-2 diabetes in overweight people. The study found that diets high in soft drinks and French fries, and low in fruit and vegetables, were associated with a greater risk of type-2 diabetes in overweight participants, particularly among those who are less physically active. A 2005 study published in “Lancet” concluded that fast-food consumption has a strong positive correlation with weight gain and insulin resistance, implying that fast-food intake may promote obesity and type-2 diabetes.

  • Minimize Your Sugar Intake

High-sugar diets promote both weight gain and insulin resistance, which eventually lead to a susceptibility to type-2 diabetes. In addition, having type-2 diabetes significantly increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Dietary modifications therefore can greatly reduce the risk of both type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Note the Quality of Fats You Use

It may just as important to focus on the quality of the fats and carbohydrates consumed in order to prevent type-2 diabetes. High intakes of trans- fatty acids, saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and other processed foods increase the risk for type-2 diabetes, whereas whole grains, polyunsaturated fats, fiber-rich foods, omega-3 fatty acids, and other minimally processed foods can lower your risk.

  • Breakfast Should Not be Skipped

Breakfast is an important meal and sometimes thought to be the most important. When missed, it can result in health issues. A 2012 a study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that skipping breakfast increased the risk for type-2 diabetes, even after adjusting for body mass index. Snacking between meals was also found to increase type-2 diabetes risk.

  • Increase Vitamin D Intake

According to the National Institutes of Health, Vitamin D studies show a link between people’s ability to maintain healthy blood glucose levels and having enough vitamin D in their blood. Fish oils, trout, salmon, cheese, eggs, and mushrooms are all good sources of Vitamin D.

  • Increase Your Activity

NIDDK

studies show that insulin resistance goes down when you increase how much you move throughout the day. Try increasing your time spent walking for 30 minutes, five days per week (that’s only five 6-minute walks each day at work).

  • Do Not Smoke

Ever. According to the CDC, smokers are 30-40 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers.

  • Keep Your Waist in Check

According to NIH, a waist measurement of 40 inches or more for men is linked to insulin resistance and increases a person’s risk for Type 2 diabetes. This is true even if a person’s BMI falls within the normal range.

4. Everybody’s responsibility

Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable by taking several simple steps: keeping weight under control, exercising more, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking. Yet it is clear that the burden of behavior change cannot fall entirely on individuals. Families, schools, worksites, healthcare providers, communities, media, the food industry, and government must work together to make healthy choices easy choices.

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Metabolic Inflammation: What is it?

Important Points:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Sugar
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Glucose

Metabolic Inflammation: What is it?

The modern diet contains a large amount of simple sugars. From bread, to donuts, to carbonated drinks, to chocolate, cookies and candy, everywhere you look, temptation abounds. The potential impact on health of diets rich in free sugars, particularly fructose, is of major concern. Does the sugar we take in have an impact on insulin resistance and obesity?

Sugar and Insulin resistance

Sugar has a bittersweet reputation when it comes to health. It occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is safe. Plant foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants, and dairy foods contain protein and calcium.

Where does the problem with sugar come? – Added sugar, which is usually extracted or synthesized.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that consuming too much sugar can have a negative effect on our metabolic health. Regular sugar consumption produces a constant release of the hormone insulin. Over a period of time, excess insulin can lead to serious problems, such as the synthesis of triglycerides, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, type II diabetes, an increase in very low-density lipoprotein (the bad kind of cholesterol), and the accumulation of fat on all tissues.

Added sugar intake may contribute to and certainly does exacerbate insulin resistance. Added sugars cater to particularly energy-hungry but metabolically inefficient cells, including senescent cells, cancerous cells, and even quickly proliferating pathogenic bacteria in the gut.

There are several genetic and lifestyle factors that can contribute to how likely you are to develop insulin resistance. But even if you have a genetic risk, you can help yourself with regular exercise, a balanced diet, avoidance of added dietary sugars, healthy sleep patterns, and stress reduction activities.

 Risk factors for insulin resistance and prediabetes include:

  • Obesity
  • Aging
  • Physical inactivity
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep disorders or circadian rhythm disruption

It is said that one in three Americans—including half of those age 60 and older— have insulin resistance.

What exactly is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, body fat, and liver start resisting or ignoring the signal of the hormone insulin when it signals to grab glucose out of the bloodstream and put it into our cells. Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is the body’s main source of fuel. We get glucose from grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and drinks that bring break down into carbohydrates.

How does Insulin Resistance develop?

While genetics, aging, and ethnicity play roles in developing insulin sensitivity, the driving forces behind insulin resistance include excess body weight, too much belly fat, a lack of exercise, smoking, and even not getting enough sleep.

As insulin resistance develops, your body fights back by producing more insulin. Over months and years, the beta cells in your pancreas that are working so hard to make insulin get worn out and can no longer keep pace with the demand for more and more insulin. Then – years after insulin resistance silently began – your blood sugar may begin to rise and you may develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. You may also develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a growing problem associated with insulin resistance that boosts your risk for liver damage and heart disease. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance can be triggered by a combination of factors linked to weight, age, and genetics, being sedentary, and smoking.

– Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Insulin resistance can worsen the symptoms of PCOS, which can include irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, and periods that cause pain.

A large waist. Experts say the best way to tell whether you’re at risk for insulin resistance involves a tape measure and moment of truth in front of the bathroom mirror. A waist that measures 35 inches or more for women, 40 or more for men (31.5 inches for women and 35.5 inches for men if you’re of Southeast Asian, Chinese or Japanese descent)increases the odds of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, a condition linked to insulin resistance.

Additional signs of metabolic syndrome. According to the National Institutes of Health, in addition to a large waist, if you have three or more of the following, you likely have metabolic syndrome, which creates insulin resistance.

  • High triglycerides. Levels of 150 or higher, or taking medication to treat high levels of these blood fats. 
  • Low HDLs. Low-density lipoprotein levels below 50 for women and 40 for men – or taking medication to raise low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.   
  • High blood pressure. Readings of 130/85 mmHg or higher, or taking medication to control high blood pressure
  • High blood sugar. Levels of 100-125 mg/dl (the prediabetes range) or over 125 (diabetes).
  • High fasting blood sugar (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

Acanthosis nigricans: This skin condition can develop in people with insulin resistance. It involves dark patches forming on the groin, armpits, and the back of the neck.

What health conditions are related to Insulin Resistance?

The most common health condition related to Insulin Resistance is prediabetes and the resultant Type 2 Diabetes. Insulin resistance also doubles your risk for heart attack and stroke and triples the odds that your heart attack or ‘brain attack’ will be deadly.
Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are also linked with higher risk for cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, cervix, pancreas, prostate, and uterus.This is because the high insulin levels early in insulin resistance seem to fuel the growth of tumors and to suppress the body’s ability to protect itself by killing off malignant cells.

Furthermore, research has found a strong association between insulin resistance and memory function decline, increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Can you prevent or reverse insulin resistance?

The good news is that yes, insulin resistance can be prevented and also reversed in some cases. Here is what you can do:

  • Get recommended amounts of physical activity and structured exercise
  • Get adequate sleep
  • eat when the sun is up (we are more insulin resistant at night and after a night of poor sleep, due to disrupted circadian rhythms that help regulate our metabolic state)
  • Reduce stress and therefore stress-related inflammation
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Increase your plant fiber intake.

All the above can help improve your insulin sensitivity. It has been shown that combining changes to both diet and exercise has the most impact on insulin sensitivity.

In a fascinating University of New Mexico School of Medicine study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, overweight people who lost 10% of their weight through diet plus exercise saw insulin sensitivity improve by an impressive 80%. Those who lost the same amount of weight through diet alone got a 38% increase. And those who simply got more exercise, but didn’t lose much weight, saw almost no shift in their level of insulin resistance.

Intermittent fasting is another way in which you can reverse your insulin resistance. This is because it gives your body a break from insulin and glucose signaling pathways that promote cell proliferation and inflammation, and may help increase your insulin sensitivity.

What therefore is the relationship between sugar and Insulin Resistance?

There is an association between diets high in sugars (predominantly sucrose) and risk of disease, and experimental studies have shown that high intakes of fructose (over 100 g/d) can reduce insulin sensitivity. The mechanisms for such associations or effects have not been convincingly demonstrated.

References:

  1. NCBI (2016): A review of recent evidence relating to sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes. Retrieved from

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174139/

  • Endocrineweb (2019): Insulin resistance causes and symptoms. Retrieved from

https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/type-2-diabetes/insulin-resistance-causes-symptoms

  • Medical News Today (2019):What to know about insulin resistance. Retrieved from

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305567.php

  • The Sugar Movement (2016): Sugar vs Fat. Retrieved from

https://thatsugarmovement.com/sugar-vs-fat/

  • Harvard Health Publishing (2017):The sweet danger of sugar. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar

  • NCBI (2014): Weight Loss, Exercise, or Both and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Obese Older Adults: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3835728/

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Sugar and cancer: Is there a link?

Important Points:

  • Sugar
  • Glucose
  • Cancer
  • Health risk
  • Nutrition

Sugar and cancer: Is there a link?

  • Sugar is the modern-day diet villain, but does it cause cancer?
  • Does sugar feed cancer cells making them grow more aggressively?
  • How does the sugar we consume through food and drink affect our health, and what can be done about this?

These are just a few questions we try to answer as we take a long hard look at sugar and its relationship with cancer. We hope to bust some myths and share what researchers are studying in the hope of finding new ways to treat people with cancer.

  1. Does sugar cause cancer?

Sugar feeds every cell in your body, but does sugar cause cancer or even help it to grow and spread? It’s true that sugar feeds every cell in our body, even cancer cell. Research shows that eating sugar doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer, but what sugar does to your waistline can lead to cancer.

  • Does sugar cause cancer cells to grow more aggressively?

Taking in too many sugar calories may result in weight gain, and being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk for cancer and other diseases.  It is likely that overfilled fat cells, possibly occurring from chronic excessive sugar consumption and high insulin levels, produce cancer promoting hormones.  Insulin production itself is triggered by sugar consumption and is a known growth hormone.

  • What is sugar, and why do our bodies need it?

Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates many of which are found in food. Simple sugars include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose, and galactose. Compound sugars or double sugars are molecules composed of two joined simple sugars, and common examples are sucrose, lactose, and maltose.

“Table sugar” is extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets and then granulated. It’s a compound sugar composed of glucose and fructose and, in the body, is hydrolyzed, or broken down, into these two components.

Glucose

When you search for sugar and cancer on the internet, you will find many warnings that sugar is the “white death” that feeds cancer cells.  The idea that sugar is responsible for kick-starting or fueling a cancer’s growth is an over-simplification of some very complicated biology.

Glucose is a basic fuel that can power every single one of our cells, but is not an essential nutritional nutrient because your body can make all of the sugar it needs without you eating any granulated sugar.

Sugar and cancer?

Cancer cells usually grow very rapidly and multiply at a high rate which takes a lot of energy. This means they need a lot of glucose as fuel. Cancer cells also need other nutrients such as amino acids and fats.

Here’s where the concept that sugar fuels cancer was born: if cancer cells need a lot of glucose, then cutting sugar out of our diet must help to stop cancer cells from growing and multiplying and could even stop it from developing in the first place. Unfortunately, all our healthy cells need glucose too, and there’s no way of telling our bodies to let healthy cells have the glucose they need while keeping it away from the cancer cells.

What then?

Although there’s no evidence that cutting carbohydrates from our diet will help treat cancer, important research has shown that understanding the abnormal ways that cancer cells make energy could lead to new treatments.

A scientist in the 1940s named Otto Warburg noticed that cancer cells use a different chemical process from normal cells to turn glucose into energy. While healthy cells use a series of chemical reactions in small cellular ‘batteries’ called mitochondria, cancer cells bypass their ‘batteries’ to generate energy more rapidly to meet demand. This discovery was named the Warburg Effect.

This shortcut for making energy might be a weakness for some cancers giving researchers an advantage for developing new treatments because:

  • First, it opens up the potential for developing drugs that shut down cancer cells’ energy-making processes without stop healthy cells’ energy making. Researchers are currently testing drugs that work in this way.
  • Second, the abnormal processes in cancer cells can also leave them less able to adapt when faced with a lack of other nutrients like amino acids. These potential vulnerabilities could lead to new treatments also.

As these approaches are still experimental, we don’t know yet if treatments that starve cancer cells are safe or if they work.

Why worry about sugar then?

If cutting out sugar doesn’t help treat cancer, why then do we encourage people to cut down on sugary foods in our diet advice?

There is an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. Eating more than recommended amounts of sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and robust scientific evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer. In fact, obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, which we’ve written about many times before.

So, should you avoid sugar?

“Your body’s cells use sugar to keep your vital organs functioning,” says Erma Levy, a research dietitian in Behavioral Science. “But too much daily sugar can cause weight gain, and unhealthy weight gain and a lack of exercise can increase your cancer risks.”

So, how much sugar is safe to eat?  Women should have no more than six teaspoons per day (25 grams), and men should have no more than nine teaspoons per day (36 grams), says the American Heart Association. This equals to about 100 calories for women and 150 for men.

The biggest source of added sugar in the American diet is sugar-sweetened beverages. Other obvious sources include cakes, cookies, pies and ice cream. Some foods, such as pasta sauce, salad dressings, and canned vegetables, have hidden sugars, so it is very important to read food labels.

Your first clue that a product is high in sugar is if the word “sugar” is listed as the first ingredient. Some sugary foods don’t include “sugar” on the ingredient list. It is often disguised under different names, so if you don’t see “sugar” then look for these words:

  • fructose (sugar from fruits)
  • lactose (sugar from milk)
  • sucrose (made from fructose and glucose)
  • maltose (sugar made from grain)
  • glucose (simple sugar)
  • dextrose (form of glucose)

There are ways to moderate your sugar intake without avoiding it altogether:

  • Rein in your sweet tooth:  When eaten in small amounts, sugar can fit into a balanced diet. 
  • Opt for natural sugars:  Natural sugars, like molasses, agave nectar, honey and maple syrup, are packed with antioxidants that protect your body from cancer.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners:  Some studies done with laboratory animals have found links between artificial sweeteners and cancer.

So, what is the future for the sugar-cancer link?

On the one hand, sugar itself doesn’t cause cancer, but there’s no way (at the moment) of specifically starving cancer cells of glucose without harming healthy cells too. On the other hand, the amount of added sugar people are consuming is alarming because it’s promoting weight gain. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of at least 13 types of cancer. Although throwing sugar out won’t stop cancer in its tracks, we can all reduce our risk of getting cancer by making healthy choices, and lowering the amount of added sugar in our diets is a good way to help maintain a healthy body weight.

Since sugar is not an essential nutrient, at the very least one should avoid consumption of all refined sugars which have essentially no nutritional value.

References:

  1. MD Anderson Cancer Centre (2019): Does sugar cause cancer? Retrieved from

https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/FOH-cancer-love-sugar.h14-1589835.html

  • Web MD: Cancer and Sugar: Is There a Link? Retrieved from

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/features/cancer-sugar-link#1

  • Cancer Research UK (2017): Sugar and cancer – what you need to know. Retrieved from
https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2017/05/15/sugar-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/
  • Wikipedia : Sugar. Retrieved from

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar