5 Ways Sugar Harms Your Body

Blake Reznik

by | Updated: November 11th, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes

With not-so-distant memories of the annual sugar binge that is Halloween still sweet on our lips and the greater holiday season now upon us — there is no better time to become aware of the absolute havoc that refined sugar can wreak on the human body — and ultimately your health.

Like many of our favorite comfort foods, sweet snacks and desserts often serve to harken back to memories of childhood and family, and, thus, periods in our lives when we seemed wholly impervious or invincible to its devilish charms.

Thumbs Down Sign from Woman Holding Handful of Refined Sugar Cubes | Vitacost.com/blog
So, as the months of November and December peel away from this year’s calendar and the sweet stuff becomes omnipresent (see: office parties, get-togethers, family gatherings, etc.), it is truly important to be aware of the damage that sugar can cause.

As the old saying goes, “everything in moderation.” And, though, everyone’s genetic makeup is completely unique, in no instance is this phrase arguably more applicable than in relation to one’s sugar-consumption habits.

The American Heart Association uses the following guidelines for daily “added sugar” intake:

Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)

Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)

That is not a lot. In the blink of an eye, downing a single, red can of cola with white writing on it can exceed the daily recommended intake — just like that.

On that note,  read on to learn about five negative effects of sugar the body. And, as you do, take heed that these are merely a handful of the serious, not-so-sweet maladies that sugar has been implicated in playing a part.

1. Oral health

Contextually speaking, it makes perfect sense to start with where sugar first enters our bodies, our mouths. From the time we’re young, dentists have not-so-subtly reminded us that sugar can, indeed, cause cavities. And, as the years go on, scientists are learning more and more about how oral health impacts our overall health. So, it’s important to remember that just because something is “sugar-free,” that doesn’t mean there is no alternate sweetener that can harm your teeth and their requisite enamel. A recent Australian study on oral disease elucidates this very fact.

That said, nothing magically absolves you from doing your due diligence with your teeth. Staying on top of your oral health and hygiene is a great first line of defense in the fight against sugar-related disease.

2. Obesity

It used to be that scientists believed saturated fats were Public Enemy No.1 in the fight against obesity, but over the past decade in particular, there has been much more research related to sugar’s effects on weight gain.

To that end, as children are by far humanity’s most precious resource, it is of no greater import than doing everything possible to dial back their sugar consumption. At baseline, that means limiting added sugars (versus those that are naturally occurring, fructose and lactose). E.g., eating an apple as opposed to drinking apple juice. The fiber in an apple plays a crucial role in offsetting the consumption of the fruit sugar.

We recommend jettisoning that sugar-laden juice in favor of some fiber-packed, fruit-derived snacks and sticking with water and milk, instead. And, if it doesn’t go without saying, avoiding sodas altogether.

3. Type 2 Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association defines type 2 diabetes, also known by the name hyperglycemia, as, “a problem with your body that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal.” It goes on to say: “If you have type 2 diabetes your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels.”

For those who are overweight and continue to eat a poor diet (heavy in added sugars and high in carbohydrates), that’s already a double-whammy. Add in a genetic predisposition — and it’s a triple-threat recipe for disaster.

The Mayo Clinic lists just some of the complications from type 2 diabetes, below, as follows:

  • Heart and blood vessel disease
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy)
  • Kidney damage
  • Eye damage (potential blindness)
  • Skin conditions
  • Alzheimer’s disease

4. Negative effects on the brain

According to Natasa Janicic-Kahric, an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, “Many Americans eat about five times the amount of sugar they should consume.” We know that to be far too much, based on the aforementioned. But, what has increasingly come to light in recent years is how dangerous over-consumption of sugar can be for the all-important organ that is our brain.

Just as illicit drugs cause a rush of dopamine in the brain — so, too, can sugar (though, not to the same extent). Then, as we know, comes the debilitating “crash.” Also, not dissimilarly, more contemporary research speaks to just how addictive sugar can be.

If you absolutely must add sugar to say, something such as coffee, it would be wise to do your research on the best sugar substitutes and sweeteners.

5. Cancer

Nothing grabs one’s attention quite like the “Big C.” And, for good reason. It is a scary word and a disease that directly or indirectly affects nearly every one us at some period in our lives. The CDC lists cancer as the second leading cause of death for Americans, only marginally behind — and rapidly gaining on Heart Disease.

Just as we discussed sugar playing a key role in obesity, it also contributes to obesity-related cancers, such as colorectal, ovary and womb types.

Pink ribbons and the encouragement of screenings are often in the public view, but what’s far less talked about are attempts at prevention via lifestyle choices before disease is upon us. Thus, along with exercise and an overarching healthy lifestyle (including a daily multivitamin) — scrutinizing foodstuff labels for ingredients like added sugars — is a crucial component in the fight.