Sugar consumption around the world has increased by over 30% in the last ten years. The human body evolved on a diet that originally contained very little sugar, and virtually no refined carbohydrates at all.
Sugar is a highly refined and energy dense, and while the body can crave it occasionally, it has a significant negative health impact.
The extreme spike in sugar usage in the foods we eat has led to a surge in health disorders such as diabetes and obesity, which is supported by a vast body of scientific evidence.
The ubiquity of sugar usage in modern society and the widespread confusion regarding the health impact of high sugar consumption is at least partly caused by extensive lobbying from the sugar industry.
Recent evidence has shown that the sugar industry has had a long history of skewing scientific evidence and nutritional studies to divert attention away from the negative health impacts of sugar consumption.
With new unbiased clinical studies unearthing the truth behind sugar consumption, health professionals around the world are beginning to recommend a severe reduction in sugar intake.
It’s now clear that sugar has a dramatic impact on every organ of the body, contributing to a wide range of systemic health disorders.
Continuous sustained sugar consumption can also cause sugar addiction, a scientifically-recognized neurochemical disorder that has been determined to be as hard to shake as opiate addiction.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most recent scientific evidence surrounding the health impact of sugar consumption as well as the causes and symptoms of sugar addiction.
What The Sugar Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know
There are many health disorders that are mistakenly attributed to factors such as excessive fat consumption that are actually caused by sugar.
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While some unhealthy fats such as artificial trans fats contribute to disorders such as heart disease, excessive sugar consumption is the primary cause of heart disease around the world.
The cause of this misconception can be traced back directly to a decades-long cover-up orchestrated by key elements of the sugar industry that had a vested interest in downplaying the negative health impact of sugar on health.
Recent evidence uncovered by a research team at the University of California has uncovered evidence of the sugar industry interfering with research into the health effects of sugar for over five decades, effectively derailing the discussion about sugar since the early 1950’s.
The research team, analyzing an archive of internal industry documents, discovered that a trade research organization funded by sugar industry companies called the Sugar Research Foundation paid Harvard researchers roughly $50,000 (adjusted for inflation) in 1967 to publish a biased study that pointed toward dietary fat consumption as the culprit for heart disease, not sugar.
This industry manipulation of scientific inquiry continued to the present day, with a 2015 scandal caused by Coca Cola providing millions of dollars in funds to a research organization dedicated to downplaying the links between obesity and sugar-rich beverages, as well as paying dietitians to endorse Coca Cola as a healthy snack.
The industry manipulation of scientific inquiry has led to the widespread dissemination of misinformation regarding the health impact of excessive sugar consumption.
Recent clinical trials free from industry manipulation have revealed a more sinister side to sugar. A 2014 study performed by a group of research institutions including the Harvard department of nutrition and the CDC demonstrated that excessive sugar consumption significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.
Evidence gathered during the study indicated that individuals whose caloric intake from sugar was more than 17% are up to 38% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, while a caloric intake sourced from more than 20% sugar is able to double the likelihood of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Sugar & Heart Disease
These results differ greatly from the original 1967 Harvard research article that pointed toward cholesterol and saturated fats as the primary cause of cardiovascular disorders, advising reducing dietary intake of these factors as the only dietary intervention necessary to prevent coronary heart disease.
Present day health recommendations differ, with the American Heart Association recommending limiting sugar consumption to just 150 calories for men and 100 calories for women.
This amount of sugar consumption still works out to roughly 10% of total caloric intake, however, which can continue to present a health risk.
Despite the growing body of scientific evidence that identifies sugar as the primary cause of many health disorders, the average person’s sugar intake is still inordinately high.
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar every day, which works out to 350 calories, or about 18% of the recommended daily caloric intake.
This level of sugar consumption places almost all Americans in a statistical range more than 38% more likely to die from heart disease.
As more than 25% deaths in America are caused by heart disease1, it becomes clear that sugar is one of the biggest killers in the modern world.
While it’s not clear exactly why the sugar industry may have wanted to obfuscate the significant negative health impact of sugar, it could have something to do with the predicted $97 billion global market worth of the sugar industry in 2017 and it’s 4.6% annual growth rate2.
What can be conclusively determined, however, is that cutting down on or completely removing sugar from your diet can have a huge positive impact on your health.
Inversely, excessive sugar consumption can cause a wide range of health disorders not limited to heart disease. Let’s take a look at some of the most common health disorders that have been conclusively proven to have been caused by sugar consumption:
How Sugar Destroys Your Health
The negative health impact of sugar extends far beyond heart disease and weight gain. While sugar is an extremely common additive in almost all of the food we eat, there is actually no nutritional need to eat sugar at all.
Sugar and other sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup are half fructose, half glucose.
Glucose can be metabolized by essentially every cell in the human body, and if your dietary intake of glucose is insufficient, the body can create it autonomously from fat and protein intake.
Ingesting unnecessary sugar leads to a wide range of disorders that can severely impact your long term health.
Sugar Causes Fatty Liver Disease
The liver is one of the hardest-working organs in the body.
The liver provides a number of critical functions for the body, converting nutrients into critical elements the body needs and storing them for later use, as well as detoxifying the body and breaking down harmful elements.
More than three million people are diagnosed with with fatty liver disease every year in the US alone, a condition that leads to diabetes, obesity, abdominal pain, and fatigue.
There are two types of fatty liver disease- alcoholic liver disease, caused by excessive alcohol consumption, and nonalcoholic liver disease, caused by dietary factors1.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, affects 30% of all Americans2, a statistic that reflects the epidemic distribution of obesity and diabetes in the population34.
One of the most concerning issues of NAFLD is that there are little to no symptoms until the latest stages of the condition, leading researchers to believe that there may be a large subset of the population suffering from both NAFLD and diabetes that remain undiagnosed5.
There are a number of peer-reviewed clinical trials that have conclusively linked sugar intake and NAFLD. A 2015 meta-study performed by a group of international research teams labeled sugar and high fructose corn syrup as a “weapon of mass destruction” with regards to the epidemiology of NAFLD6, while several other trials have demonstrated a correlation between increased sugar intake and exacerbated fat deposits, inflammation and fibrosis of the liver78.
One particularly compelling study performed by researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in 2015 analyzed more than 2600 patients to determine that just one sugar-sweetened beverage daily can significantly increase the risk of developing non alcoholic fatty liver disease1.
From the evidence available, it’s clear that there is a concrete link between sugar consumption and poor liver health.
Sugar Consumption Causes Metabolic Diseases & Leaky Gut Syndrome
Sugar consumption also appears to have an effect on the interactions between the liver and the microbiome, or the system of microorganisms that live within the human body and contribute to good health.
You may be familiar with probiotic supplements, foods and beverages that promote the development of positive gut bacteria. These symbiotic microorganisms, or microbiota, are essential in maintaining a balanced, healthy digestive system and body.
Microbiota have been the subject of rigorous scientific scrutiny in recent years and have been referred to as a “hidden metabolic organ”, with an unhealthy microbiotic environment linked to diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even colorectal cancer2.
Fatty liver disease caused by excess sugar intake has been linked to an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria, as liver disease causes the overgrowth of negative intestinal biota3.
A 2015 study has shown that reducing dietary intake of sugar can dramatically reduce the likelihood of developing fatty liver disease, thereby lessening the likelihood of causing microbiotic imbalance that can lead to dysbiotic health disorders4.
Perhaps one of the most common disorders caused by an intestinal biotic imbalance is leaky gut syndrome.
Also known as intestinal hyperpermeability, leaky gut syndrome is characterized by food sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune disease, nutritional deficiencies, inflammatory skin conditions and mood issues.
Leaky gut syndrome is a disorder of the digestive system that allows toxins, pathogens, and other microbes to pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, causing debilitating health effects. While leaky gut syndrome is poorly understood, its causes have been linked to inflammation.
Several studies have linked sugar intake to increased intestinal inflammation, which can also trigger obesity, liver injury, and other diseases56. If you’re suffering from any of the disorders listed above, it’s possible that you may have undiagnosed leaky gut syndrome.
Eliminating dietary sugar is one of the first steps to take in healing leaky gut syndrome and promoting good digestive bacterial balance.
Sugar Causes Type 2 Diabetes
According to statistics released by the CDC, almost 10% of the American population sufferers from type 2 diabetes, with a further 2.5% remaining undiagnosed7.
Type 2 diabetes causes the body to elevate blood sugar levels to unhealthy levels, a condition called hyperglycemia. Some of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes include increased thirst, chronic fatigue, frequent urination, constant hunger, and blurred vision.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body becoming resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is manufactured in the pancreas and released to regulate blood sugar levels.
When the body becomes resistant to insulin, the fat, muscle and liver cells become less sensitive to insulin, which requires the body to manufacture and release higher levels of the hormone to compensate.
The cells in the pancreas that create insulin begin to become overtaxed, and can no longer manufacture enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes have serious health risks.
Over time, blood sugar levels become dangerously high, damaging blood vessel and nerves and ultimately causing severe health complications such as stroke, blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and even limb amputations.
In extreme cases, type 2 diabetes can cause soft tissue necrosis and gangrene if left untreated1.
Sugar consumption is intrinsically linked to the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes23.
A 2009 study concluded that excess sugar consumption decreases insulin sensitivity, leading to diabetes4, while another meta-study cataloging clinical investigations over more than six decades found conclusive evidence that sugar intake causes insulin resistance as well as liver disease and elevated obesity rates5.
Sugar Is A Potential Cause Of Cancer
There is a significant amount of evidence that points to sugar as a cause of several different forms of cancer. While there are many different types and causes of cancer, there are correlations between both sugar and high fructose corn syrup and elevated cancer rates.
Refined sugar is one of the most carcinogenic forms of sugar, with strong evidence found that links this form of sugar to colorectal cancer, or cancer of the colon or rectum.
A 1993 study focusing on the link between colorectal cancer and sugar intake. demonstrated a significant correlation between the two.
In the study, 953 individuals historical diagnoses of colorectal cancer were questioned regarding their sugar intake, with those reporting the highest levels of sugar intake almost twice as likely to develop colorectal cancer6.
Despite this compelling evidence, there is a significant lack of published medical research in the links between sugar and cancer, potentially caused by sugar industry manipulation of clinical results.
More recent clinical studies, however, have demonstrated compelling evidence for sugar as a carcinogen. A 2016 study treated 14 mice with diethylnitrosamine, a powerful carcinogen that causes irreversible liver cancer.
The mice were separated into groups with clearly defined sugar and fat content diets, with the mice fed on the highest sugar content developing cancerous tumors at the fastest rate.
While in this particular trial the carcinogenesis was induced via chemical exposure, it does provide concrete evidence that a high sugar diet can increase the risk of developing cancer by up to 56%1
Another 2016 study performed by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was performed in a similar manner, observing the effects of glucose-rich diets on mice exposed to carcinogenic chemicals.
In the trial, 58% of the mice on a glucose-rich diet developed tumors, compared to just 30% in a starch controlled, low glucose diet2.
While neither of these studies conclusively prove that sugar can cause cancer, it can definitely increase your chances of developing tumors, which is an excellent reason to cut it from your diet.
Your Brain On Sugar: A Neurochemical Addiction
One of the most difficult aspects of removing sugar from your diet is the effect it has on your brain. Scientists have determined that sugar is just as addictive as opiate drugs, causing a dependency cycle that interacts with the pleasure centers of the brain.
When the body metabolizes sugar, opioids and dopamine are released in the brain. This process occurs as an evolutionary response to promote the consumption of food, enhancing the prospects of survival.
Scientific evidence points to excessively palatable foods, such as sugar, as causing this response to malfunction, resulting in addict behavior.
A 2008 study performed at Princeton University that observed the behavioral patterns of rats fed diets rich in sugar compared to sugar-restricted diets showed that the subject rats regularly fed sugar-rich diets demonstrated withdrawal symptoms when sugar-rich foods were removed from their dietary intake3.
This evidence is supported by a behavioral dependency pattern that occurs in individuals that frequently consume sugar-rich foods. Consuming sugar-rich foods provides an immediate boost in both energy and dopamine, which causes a positive feeling.
When the sugar reaches the bloodstream, the body will release insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, immediately lowering energy levels and causing a “sugar crash”, releasing stress hormones into the body.
This causes immediate food cravings, resulting in the consumption of more sugar-rich foods.
Breaking The Sugar Addiction Cycle
While breaking the sugar addiction cycle may be difficult, it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips for pushing through sugar cravings if you’re experiencing sugar addiction:
- Replace sugary treats with raw fruits. Fruit contains fructose, which is metabolized differently than the glucose in sugar-rich treats, and is far less harmful to the body.
- Boost serotonin levels naturally. Sugar addiction causes an imbalance in the pleasure centers of the brain, so boosting “feel good” chemical production can prevent sugar cravings.
- Supplementing the diet with B-vitamins and tryptophan rich foods such as nuts, tofu, seeds and lentils has been demonstrated to naturally boost serotonin levels1
- Exercise regularly and spend time in the sun. Both regular cardio exercise and weight training have been shown to boost serotonin levels naturally and alleviate withdrawal symptoms, as has sunlight exposure2.
Sugar-Rich Foods To Avoid
Removing sugar from your diet can be difficult. Many of the sugar rich foods we eat on a daily basis don’t list their sugar content on the label, instead using high fructose corn syrup or sugar alcohol.
It’s extremely difficult to differentiate between natural sugar and added sugar, but fortunately the FDA has released a new labeling system that requires manufacturers to provide information on added sugar as both a weight value and percentage daily value3.
Here are a few different ingredients to avoid if you’d like to cut sugar out of your diet:
- Anhydrous Dextrose
- Corn Syrup
- Corn Syrup Solids
- HFCS or High Fructose Corn Syrup
Sugar Side Effects Summary
Overall, sugar may taste good but is ultimately detrimental to your long term health. Although cutting sugar out of your diet may be difficult, it’s a positive step toward lowering your risk of developing a wide range of diseases.
Excessive sugar consumption contributes to early death, impaired brain function, liver disease, heart disease, cancer and more.
While it may not be possible to completely cut sugar out of your diet immediately, it’s possible to gradually minimize your consumption as much as possible.
New FDA labeling regulations make it easier than ever to identify sugar-rich foods, and taking steps toward minimizing sugar addiction such as eating healthy foods and exercising regularly offer a long list of health benefits.
If you’d like to stay as healthy as you can, cutting down on sugar is one of the best moves you can make.