The Greatest Threat to Our Health Today

by Chris Jones on October 22, 2011

I believe that the greatest threat to our health today is an ingredient in our diet, the consumption of which has risen dramatically in recent history. I’m talking about sugar. Let’s look at how much our sugar consumption has increased. Here are the figures for Great Britain and they are essentially the same for other developed countries.

Sugar Consumption

• In 1700, the average person consumed about 4.6 pounds of sugar per year.
• By 1770, it had increased nearly four times, to 16.2 pounds.
• By 1800, it was 18 pounds.
• By 1850, it had doubled to 36 pounds and by 1900 it was 90 pounds.

Here is a graph of sugar consumption in Great Britain from 1815 to 1955. Notice the dips that coincided with the two World Wars and the slow recoveries in sugar consumption thereafter, the first prolonged by the Great Depression and the second by continued rationing.

In the United States, it is now estimated that more than 50 percent of Americans consume a 1/2 pound of sugar per day, which amounts to 180 pounds of sugar per year. It is little wonder that we are in the midst of a chronic disease and obesity epidemic.

Forms of Sugar

Sugar comes in essentially two forms; naturally occurring and processed. The naturally occurring sugars give sweetness to certain fruits and vegetables for example, to apples, tomatoes and carrots. Processed sugars are the sugars that are extracted from natural sources, for example table sugar from sugar cane and sugar beet, and high fructose corn syrup manufactured from corn starch by an enzymatic process.

Some of the Simple Sugars and their Components

Glucose, also known as Dextrose
Fructose, also known as Fruit Sugar
Galactose
Maltose ( Glucose-Glucose ) Malt Sugar
Lactose ( Glucose-Galactose ) Milk Sugar
Sucrose ( Glucose-Fructose ) Table Sugar

We are designed to handle the simple sugar glucose very well. It is the major energy source for our brain, and every living cell in the body is capable of metabolizing glucose. Fructose on the other hand is not handled at all well and is metabolized largely in the liver. It is now considered by some to be toxic (1)

Today, we are taking in vastly more sugar than we need and the excess is overwhelming our normal metabolic processes. The result is a steady degradation in our health as exemplified by a greater susceptibility to infection and an increased incidence of serious chronic diseases. . Dr. Nancy Appleton has listed 146 ways in which sugar can adversely affect our health (2). Some of the most serious effects are listed below. Purified fructose is far more deleterious than glucose or natural fructose.

Serious Effects of Sugar on Our Health

1. Sugar weakens our immune system (3,4,5) . It has been shown that ingestion of 100 mg of sugar in the form of glucose, fructose, sucrose (table sugar), honey or orange juice resulted in an approximate 50% reduction in the ability of neutrophils to ingest bacteria. This inhibition lasted for at least five hours.

2. Sugar is the preferred food of cancer cells. They thrive on it and can use both glucose and fructose (6).

3. Excessive sugar consumption can lead to obesity. The increasing use of high fructose corn syrup in processed foods correlates with the obesity epidemic. Fructose is readily converted into fat (7) and it also inhibits the production of leptin (8), a hormone which tells us when we are full. So, as a result, we keep on eating and getting fatter.

Obesity itself is a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, cardio and cerebrovascular disease, cancer at at least 5 locations, dementia, osteoarthritis, and a host of other medical conditions (9)

4. Fructose consumption can lead to an elevation of serum uric acid levels which in turn results in elevated blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. (10,11)

5. Fructose induces insulin resistance. There is growing evidence that fructose can induce the condition known as insulin resistance (12). This is where the tissues do not respond adequately to insulin and so do not absorb circulating glucose in the normal manner with the result that blood glucose levels rise above the normal range and produce adverse effects. The induction of insulin resistance by fructose occurs independently of weight gain and differences in caloric intake (13,14) and the effect may be mediated by increased uric acid levels. Insulin resistance precedes the development of type 2 diabetes and is characteristic of it.

6. Fructose and metabolic syndrome. It is now clear that high fructose consumption represents a serious threat to our health. Either directly or indirectly, it promotes fat synthesis, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance, all of which are characteristic of a condition known as metabolic syndrome, a collection of traits probably best described by Gerald Reaven (15) that greatly increase our risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Metabolic syndrome now affects over 55 million people in the United States (16) and is indicative of chronic disease. It used to be found only in adults but now occurs in adolescents also.

Reducing Our Sugar Consumption

So, now that we know what a serious threat excessive sugar intake is to our health, what can we do about it? Obviously, we have to reduce our sugar consumption. How? Here are a few suggestions.

1. First, we need to be aware of our sugar intake. How quickly do we go through a bag of sugar at home? We should make a conscious effort to reduce our sugar intake and this can be done gradually so that we minimize the risk of relapse. Try reducing the amount of sugar you put in tea or coffee, and in recipes. If you do this in stages, it will be easier to adapt and you will see the benefit when you notice that it takes longer to go through a bag of sugar.

2. Avoid using artificial sweeteners because they will perpetuate your sweet tooth. The whole idea is to recalibrate our taste buds. Also, some artificially sweeteners may have side effects.

3. Avoid all sodas. They are rich in added sugars or artificial sweeteners.

4. Read all labels on processed foods and baked goods.. You may be surprised at the sugar content. If you cannot avoid such foods, then make a conscious effort to reduce your intake of them. Knowledge is power.

5. Wean yourself off dessert. Substitute fresh fruit and some cottage cheese for processed desserts such as pies, puddings and ice cream. You should reserve those for special occasions only and then in moderation.

6. Eat real fruit and avoid fruit juices which only serve to concentrate the sugars and remove the fiber. Aim for 2-3 servings of fruit per day and at least five servings of vegetables, half of which should be raw.

7. Don’t go shopping when you are hungry.

8. Eat a good breakfast, preferably high in protein and fiber and low in sugar and refined carbohydrates. The same applies to lunch. Eat a light dinner. If you need to snack, then have some fresh fruit and nuts on hand.

Hopefully, if you follow this advice you will eventually be repulsed if you encounter anything intensely sweet and you will be doing your health a big favor.

© Christopher J. Jones, M.Sc., Ph.D.

References

1. Lustig, R. H. (2009) Sugar: The Bitter Truth. UC Television Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

2. Appleton, N. 146 Reasons Why Sugar Is Ruining Your Health. http://rheumatic.org/sugar.htm

3. Sanchez, A., et al. “Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Nov 1973;261:1180-1184.

4. Bernstein, J., et al. “Depression of Lymphocyte Transformation Following Oral Glucose Ingestion.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.1997;30:613.

5. Jones, C. J. (2010) How to Build and Maintain a Strong Immune System. http://www.healthyaddress.com/ensure-health.html

6. Liu, H. et al. ( 2010) Fructose Induces Transketolase Flux to Promote Pancreatic Cancer Growth. Cancer Res. 70:6368-6376. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/70/15/6368.full

7. Stanhope, K. L. & Havel, P. J. (2008) Fructose Consumption: Potential Mechanisms for Its Effects to Increase Visceral Adiposity and Induce Dyslipidemia and Insulin Resistance. Curr. Opin. Lipidol. 19:16–24.

8. Shapiro, A. et al. (2008) Fructose-Induced Leptin Resistance Exacerbates Weight Gain in Response to Subsequent High Fat Feeding. Am. J. Physiol. Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 295: R1370–R1375.

9. Jones, C. J. (2010) Obesity and Its Serious Health Consequences. http://www.healthyaddress.com/obesity-health-consequences.html

10. Feig, D. I., Kang, D. H. & Johnson, R. J. (2008) Uric acid and Cardiovascular Risk. N. Engl. J. Med. 359:1811–1821.

11. Feig, D. I. & Johnson, R.J. (2003) Hyperuricemia in Childhood Primary Hypertension. Hypertension 42:247–252.

12. Johnson, R. J. et al. (2009) Hypothesis: Could Excessive Fructose Intake and Uric Acid Cause Type 2 Diabetes? Endocrine Reviews 30 (1): 96-116.

13. Havel P. J. (2005) Dietary Fructose: Implications for Dysregulation of Energy Homeostasis and Lipid/Carbohydrate Metabolism. Nutr Rev 63:133–157.

14. Nakagawa, T. et al. (2006) A Causal Role for Uric Acid in Fructose-Induced Metabolic Syndrome. Am J Physiol 290:F625–F631.

15. Reaven, G. M. (1997) Banting Lecture 1988. Role of Insulin Resistance in Human Disease. Nutrition 13:65.

16. Ford, E. S., Giles, W. H. & Mokdad, A. H. (2004) Increasing Prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome Among U.S. Adults. Diabetes Care 27:2444–2449.

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The information and recommendations given on this site are based upon the experience of the author and on assessments of published findings by others. You should seek advice from an appropriate health professional such as a physician, dietician, nutritionist or exercise specialist if you are considering making changes to your diet and lifestyle, in the event that there may be health and fitness issues and possible food allergies to consider. It is prudent to make changes gradually rather than all at once.