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Sugar & Inflammation

Inflammation can be helpful in some situations. If you get sick or injured, acute inflammation can help your body protect and heal itself.  But when inflammation is chronic and long-term, it’s a whole other story. Lots of factors that can play a part in this type of inflammation but one of the biggest culprits is sugar. 

Eating a lot of sugar every day can lead to low-grade inflammation in your body. This might not sound so bad but it’s the type of inflammation that’s commonly linked to health problems and obesity. 

It is refined and processed added sugars that contribute to this — not the natural sugars that you’ll find in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

The Link between Sugar and Inflammation 

According to the results of several studies, there’s a strong link between added sugars and inflammation. The more sugar you consume, the higher you can expect your inflammatory markers to be. 

In a small-scale study, drinking 40g of added sugar in a can of soft drink every day for 6 months increased the amount of uric acid in the body, especially for people who were already overweight. This is important since high amounts of uric acid lead to crystals forming in the joints and tendons and high-level inflammation. 

Sugary drinks are a common culprit for inflammation, and this can happen very quickly. According to one study, drinking 50g of fructose spikes levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker, in just 30 minutes. This might sound like a ton of fructose but a lot of us consume this (and more!) on an average day. 

Studies have also suggested that cutting back on sugary foods and drinks can decrease levels of inflammatory markers. This is crucial, as it indicates that you can reduce inflammation and improve your health if your diet isn’t loaded with added sugars. 

How Added Sugars Affect Your Body 

So, what does sugar actually do to your body to encourage inflammation to develop? 

Here are a few of the things that can happen if your diet is full of refined/processed sugars, especially if your diet is unhealthy in other ways, too:

  • High LDL cholesterol:  According to some studies, sugary drinks are strongly linked to higher levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. 

  • Increased gut permeability: Eating a lot of sugar may affect the permeability of the intestinal walls. This means that undigested food particles, toxins, and bacteria can pass through into the bloodstream. When this happens, they’re treated as foreign invaders in the body. The end result? Inflammation is more likely. Fructose is a common culprit for a “leaky” gut. 

  • Formation of AGEs: Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are created as a result of protein and fat mixing with sugar in your bloodstream. If there are too many AGEs in your body, oxidative stress and inflammation are more likely. 

  • Weight gain: Refined sugars are a major culprit in weight gain and obesity. This helps increase inflammation levels in the body. Sugar and artificial sweeteners are also likely to stop you feeling full, even if you’re eating a ton of food (and consuming a whole heap of calories!). This can lead to overeating and weight gain. 

  • Greater risk of heart disease: Some studies have shown a link between high sugar intake and a greater risk of developing heart disease — especially for sugary drinks. A study of 75,000 women found that a sugar and carb-heavy diet raised the risk of heart disease, probably due to the effects on cardiovascular health, insulin resistance, and inflammatory markers. 

  • High risk for type 2 diabetes: Eating lots of sugar can make you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. According to one study, having one sugary drink per day can raise your risk factor by almost 20%. Corn syrup is one of the worst types of sugar from a diabetes perspective. 

  • Potential cancer risks: Studies on mice have shown that eating a ton of sugar could increase the risk of developing some types of cancer. Mice fed a lot of sugar went on to develop breast cancer. In humans, one study has suggested a potential link between high-sugar diets and colon cancer, although more research needs to be done to confirm whether this is definitely the case. It’s thought that inflammation from a sugar-rich diet may have a big part to play. 

Chronic inflammation can also affect your energy levels, mood, digestion, and immunity. 

This does not meal all sugar is bad! The sugar from fruits and vegetables contain a multitude of vitamins and minerals along with fibre to help slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream and lessen the unhealthy effects.

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