Sugar – Part 2
In part one of this series we learned about what sugar is, where it comes from and why we need it. Today, we are going to learn more about what it does in our bodies on a chemical level and how it affect our hormonal, metabolic, immune, and mental health. No sugarcoating here!
The amount of sugar we can safely carry in our bloodstream is limited; it is around 4 teaspoons. If there is more sugar in the body than we can handle, we need to store it somewhere. When we eat sugar, our pancreas releases insulin, a hormone responsible for managing and storing sugar in the body. Insulin sends a message to your cells to let nutrients in and keep the blood glucose level stable by doing so. Our bodies need a certain amount of glucose to replenish and recover after both mental and physical activities. However, when there is too much glucose in the blood, our cells have to store the excess glucose by turning the sugar into fat. The human body has very limited storage for carbohydrates, but unlimited storage for fat. Sugar converted into fat can either appear in the form of triglycerides (circulating blood fat) or adipose tissue (body fat). The amount of carbohydrates our body can store varies from person to person and it depends on many factors, including activity level and current health condition. Particularly the presence of untreated autoimmune conditions will affect how the body stores or loses fat.
We already mentioned insulin, and most of you probably know there is a link between insulin and diabetes. When you have a consistently high level of blood glucose, the body demands more and more insulin production from the pancreas. Beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin can easily be damaged if this overstimulation goes on for too long. The pancreas is then no longer able to produce insulin, making the body unable to manage blood glucose levels on its own. This autoimmune condition is called type 1 diabetes. Patients with type 1 diabetes need to receive insulin shots so their body gets the signal to store glucose from the bloodstream. Otherwise their blood glucose level could rise dangerously high, leading to hyperglycemia. Temporary hyperglycemia is usually benign, but chronic and a prolonged hyperglycemic state can lead to permanent damage in the body, including kidney, neurological, and cardiovascular damage.
There is another player in blood glucose regulation besides insulin called glucagon. While insulin stores sugar in cells, glucagons role is to release sugar back into the bloodstream when it drops too low. When the body loses its ability to produce glucagon (this sometimes happens with type 1 diabetics when taking too much insulin for a longer period of time), you can become hypoglycemic, which is the opposite of hyperglycemia. Symptoms of hypoglycemia chronically low levels of blood glucose are shakiness, anxiety, sweating, headache, nervousness, fatigue, weakness, apathy, or anger. Low blood sugar levels affect the central nervous system and can even lead to abnormal thinking, impaired judgment, negativity, personality change, emotional instability, and in serious cases even coma. Remember that you can occasionally feel light headed and anxious when you have low blood glucose from fasting, but this is not hypoglycemia, this is just a temporary state that can be managed simply by eating the right food for your metabolic type. Hypoglycemia is a health condition that must be managed medically with glucagon intake, just as diabetes calls for insulin. In many cases, it may also be possible to manage by eating the right kind of fuel for your metabolic type, allowing you to maintain more stable blood glucose throughout the day. Generally speaking, most people prone to hypoglycemia will feel better including more fats and proteins in their meals as they tend to be slower burning fuel which allows you to keep more stable blood sugar for longer.
Consuming too much sugar can lead to different kinds of conditions besides diabetes. Symptoms like mood swings, acne, PMS, unrestful sleep, and muscle fatigue are just a few of the signs of sugar addiction and nutrient deficiencies caused by consuming too much simple sugar and empty calories. Other long term issues include PCOS, anemia, cystic acne, eczema, psoriasis, adrenal fatigue, and insomnia. Sugar and carbohydrates don’t affect just insulin and glucagon, but they also have an impact on the thyroid gland, ovaries, low testosterone, fertility issues, body weight, etc. Blood glucose regulation is important for overall hormonal balance in the body. With every health issue, regulating blood glucose is recommended as a first step.
Sugar also plays a role in chronic inflammation in the body and it has an impact on the digestive system (and this is closely tied with the immune system, as we discussed previously). Certain types of sugar (fruit sugar called fructose or dairy sugar called lactose) are not digested the same as glucose, and for some people, these can be hard to metabolize, causing digestive issues. Fructose is first processed by the liver and too much fructose can put too much stress on this organ and cause inflammation in the body. Lactose intolerance is pretty common. People with specific digestive issues should avoid certain types of sugar. People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome often suffer from fructose intolerance. People sensitive to FODMAPs generally feel better without fructose and sugar alcohols. And last but not least, people who struggle with candida overgrowth or gut dysbiosis should stay away from sugar, as sugar feeds these unhelpful bacteria in the gut, allowing them to thrive when it would be better to starve them out, and supplement with extra probiotics containing more helpful strains of bacteria.
Well, the whole sugar story doesn’t really sound that sweet, right? This was some hardcore science you just learned, I bet some of those things your doctor never told you. We know we need sugar to live basically, but now we also understand that the overconsumption of refined sugar leads to a number of health issues. Do you recognize any particular problem you can relate to? In part three of this series we are going to tell you how to escape sugar addiction and what action steps to take in order to never fall for that sweet wolf in sheep’s clothing again!