Do You Really Know It’s True?
Do you really know that it’s true that sugar – even when consumed in quantities well beyond ‘official daily requirements’ – is bad for you? Before you say yes, or even after you say yes, let’s just run through it a bit, because I think it’s important.
What is it you have experienced in order to come to this conclusion? Or is it just that it’s been said to you so many times, in so many ways, by so many people, that now you just believe it and accept it as a given. That would be understandable, although not necessarily completely reliable.
For starters, what do you mean when you say the word ‘sugar’? Are you referring to the sugar found in fruit – commonly known as fructose (or sucrose) – or are you thinking about some form of starch (or plain glucose)? Or do you have all the different kinds of sugars grouped together in your mind, as if they were one thing.
Just that little piece of information alone, can make a big difference to what you perceive is happening when you consume a food with ‘sugar’ in it, and help you begin to untangle some of the confusion.
Very often, when people are talking about the negative effects of ‘sugar’ in relation to blood sugar issues (and related hormonal/biochemical responses), they are actually referring to the effects of foods high in glucose or starch, a carbohydrate which breaks down into glucose.
“Fructose and sucrose solutions enhanced energy intake but did not increase body weight…Intake of fructose or sucrose solution did not impair insulin-stimulated glucose uptake or signaling…” (Ruzzin J, et al., 2005)
“…plasma glucose and insulin responses of healthy subjects after consumption of different sugars are influenced by both the source and amount of carbohydrate tested. Glucose elicited the highest plasma glucose and insulin responses, followed by white bread, sucrose and fructose.” (BM Lee, TMS Wolever, 1998)
“…pure fructose given as a drink resulted in relatively flat serum glucose and insulin responses and did not cause a hypoglycemic reaction in any of the subjects, compared with the glucose drink, which caused a hypoglycemic reaction…ingestion of pure sucrose as a drink elicited significantly flatter serum glucose and insulin responses than did the glucose drink and…did not result in a hypoglycemic reaction by our definition in any patient…” (Crapo PA, et al., 1982)
Starch consumption (ie. glucose, rather than glucose and fructose combined which is sucrose or white sugar), has been known to be able to quickly raise blood sugar, and be far more insulinogenic (able to promote insulin secretion) than cane sugar or sugar from fruit, or higher fructose sugars (honey, HFCS etc).
Too much starch in the diet can be one of the factors causing blood sugar issues, or further exacerbating existing blood sugar irregularities, potentially resulting in the promotion of the release of a variety of inflammatory, anti-metabolic stress substances.
Fructose and sucrose, on the other hand, have been shown to be able to help deal with blood sugar dysregulation issues, protect against stress and inflammation, and improve the function of metabolism.
“Single catalytic doses of fructose infused have shown a ∼30% reduction in postprandial hepatic glucose output under hyperglycemic conditions in people with type 2 diabetes and a roughly threefold increase in glycogen synthesis under euglycemic hyperinsulinemic conditions in people without diabetes.” (Cozma AI, et al., 2012)
“Sucrose…isocalorically exchanged for starch, lowered glycemic response between breakfast and lunch in children who were euglycemic before breakfast. These data refute concerns about adverse glycemic effects of sucrose and support the use of sucrose-containing foods in the context of a healthy meal plan.” (Rickard KA, et al., 1998)
“Replacing refined starch with an equal amount of sucrose in processed foods (such as sweetened breakfast cereals) may actually reduce their blood glucose and insulin responses…” (BM Lee, TMS Wolever, 1998)
“We found a significant reduction in glycaemic and insulin responses when sugar replaced the rapidly digested starch in a processed breakfast cereal, i.e. the opposite of what is commonly believed.” (Miller JC, Lobbezoo I. 1994)
Starch coming from grains, beans, legumes, as well as certain fruits and vegetables, can also be a part of what feeds bacterial overgrowth issues. Increasing exposure to bacteria and bacterial toxins (in combination with a variety of fibers and chemicals found inside many starchy foods), can lead to digestive interference, inflammation, allergic reactions and sensitivities to foods which might otherwise be easily assimilated. Such conditions can create difficulty in absorbing and digesting simple sugars, including fructose and lactose, which under normal conditions would be easy to assimilate.
“D-Lactic acid has been thought to be the most detrimental short-chain monocarboxylic acid produced from fermentation of carbohydrate in the gut as it can produce numerous negative physical, mood and behavioural effects in humans…” (T.L. Hanstock, et al., 2004)
“…nutritionists have encouraged the consumption of foods containing resistant starch and nonstarch polysaccharide…only the in vitro effects of butyrate alone have been studied without examining…other fermentation end products such as acetate, propionate and lactic acid…Acetic acid…can induce ulcerative colitis…some research indicates that butyrate can increase cell proliferation…” (T.L. Hanstock, et al., 2004)
“…a number of fermentable fiber supplements including pectin, corn bran, oat bran, undegraded carageenan, agar, psyllium, guar gum, and alfalfa have been shown to enhance tumor development…Fermentation also lowers luminal pH, which in turn modifies colonic microbial metabolic acidity, and is associated with increased epithelial cell proliferation and colon carcinogenesis.” (Jacobs LR. 1986)
Ongoing interference with digestion and metabolic function can promote a rise in exposure to (and circulation of) bacterial endotoxin (LPS). Increased levels of endotoxin (especially when combined with a high dietary fat intake), can promote stress and inflammation, causing many of the issues which are often attributed to ‘excessive’ sugar consumption.
“…we demonstrate first that metabolic concentrations of plasma LPS are modulated by fat food content…we found that metabolic concentrations of plasma LPS [endotoxin] are a sufficient molecular mechanism for triggering the high-fat diet–induced metabolic diseases obesity/diabetes.” (Patrice D. Cani, et al., 2007)
“…high carbohydrate and fat intake (“cafeteria-type diet”) increases intestinal 5-HT [serotonin] leading to TLR4 activation. Thus, endotoxaemia and inflammation owing to increased intestinal 5-HT may underpin the depression and diabetes association…” (Pomytkin IA, et al., 2015)
When people say they’ve noticed the negative effects of eating sugar (or the positive effects of avoiding it), when looked at a little more closely, it often turns out that the foods they have been consuming (as well as some they are limiting), don’t have that much in the way of actual white sugar or sucrose in them.
Sometimes these foods are high in starch, and other times they don’t have a lot of starch or any other form of sugar in them at all. But even when they do, they almost always have a variety of harmful, anti-metabolic ingredients, like for instance the polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).
PUFAs have been shown time and time again, to be responsible for interfering with the ability of cells to properly metabolize sugar, thus being able to promote issues, which can easily be incorrectly blamed on the consumption of too much fruit sugar, including chronic hyperglycemia and insulin resistance.
“…free fatty acids induce insulin resistance in humans by initial inhibition of glucose transport/phosphorylation which is then followed by an approximately 50% reduction in both the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis and glucose oxidation.” (Roden M, et al., 1996)
“Linoleic acid also dose-dependently reduced mitochondrial membrane potential…reducing glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, which is dependent on normal mitochondrial function…chronic exposure to linoleic acid-induced β-cell dysfunction…” (Ya Tuo, et al., 2011)
Although it might appear to the naked eye, as though these issues are ‘obviously’ the result of excessive consumption of sugar, when examined carefully, it becomes more apparent that this is very often far from the truth.
Because of this, taking sugar out of the diet is, especially over the long term, unlikely to be able to magically solve blood sugar related metabolic issues.
When dietary sugars are removed, stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol tend to rise, and polyunsaturated fats begin to be released in greater amounts out of storage into the blood. This then promotes more metabolic stress and inflammation, interfering with cellular function, and eventually increasing disease.
“…chronic periods of stress can be detrimental to health by increasing inflammation and promoting the progression of diseases including cancer…stress recruits inflammatory cells to tumours and increases the formation of blood vessels, which may provide routes for tumour cell dissemination…” (Caroline P. Le, et al., 2016)
“…the presence of…metastasis-initiating cells correlates with a poor prognosis for numerous types of carcinomas, and inhibition…impairs metastasis, at least in human melanoma- and breast cancer-derived tumours…results indicate that metastasis-initiating cells particularly rely on dietary lipids to promote metastasis.” (Gloria Pascual, et al., 2017)
Under circumstances where sugar intake is restricted, there will continue to be a supply of sugar into the system, but now it will increase stress substance release, and come at the expense of valuable muscle and other tissue. This combination of responses to metabolic stress, can gradually lead to worsening symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation, eventually becoming diabetes and other inflammatory illnesses.
When fat (in particular polyunsaturated fat) is combined with starch or glucose, the ability of cells to use available blood sugar is impeded or impaired, promoting hyperglycemia and insulin resistance as well as a rise in levels of disease promoting inflammatory stress substances, and other changes associated with diabetes. Sucrose and fructose containing foods have been shown to be protective.
“Lipid accumulation in hepatocytes and morphological aberrations and hypertrophy in pancreatic islets were….promoted by a high-fat diet…results indicated that the lipid metabolic system was activated by a high-fat diet and aging…a high-fat diet accelerated aging…by increasing liver mRNA level for Hsd11b1, increasing insulin secretion, and promoting lipid accumulation in the liver.” (Honma T, et al., 2012)
“HFDs [high fat diets] in both insulin-sensitive humans and mice were associated with reduction in the expression of genes involved in oxidative capacity…and those involved in mitochondrial biogenesis…These studies support the novel hypothesis that HFDs or high-fat flux explain the reduction in OXPHOS genes seen in aging, the prediabetic state, and in overt diabetes.” (Lauren M. Sparks, et al., 2005)
“…the intake of orange juice in combination with an HFHC [high fat high carb] meal prevents…the inflammatory response…in contrast to the increase in both of these indexes after the HFHC meal with glucose or water…Glucose or water intake with the meal also resulted in an increase in plasma endotoxin concentrations…Such increases were absent after intake of orange juice and the meal.” (Ghanim H, et al., 2010)
Rapid increases in blood sugar caused by the consumption of excessive amounts of pure starch or glucose, stimulates insulin release, and can potentially promote fat synthesis more easily than white sugar. But whether or not, or how much this happens, is most likely dependent upon the existence of other metabolism interfering factors.
“The capacity for glycogen storage…is larger than generally believed, and…Fat synthesis from CHO [carbohydrate] will not exceed fat oxidation after one high-carbohydrate meal, even if it is uncommonly large…These findings challenge the common perception that conversion of CHO to fat is an important pathway for the retention of dietary energy and for the accumulation of body fat.” (Acheson KJ, et al., 1982)
“The fat supplement…did not alter 24-h energy expenditure…and failed to promote the use of fat as a metabolic fuel…The overall energy balance was closely correlated with the fat balance…but not with the carbohydrate balance…These data indicate that substantial imbalances between intake and oxidation are much more likely for fat than for carbohydrate.” (Schutz Y, et al., 1989)
Although the combination of fat and sugar of any kind can potentially lead to weight gain and some other issues, it is the PUFAs (probably even more so when consumed with starch) that are the most likely promoters of obesity and inflammation and other related forms of metabolic dysfunction.
“LA [linoleic acid] induces obesity and insulin resistance and reduces activity more than saturated fat, supporting the hypothesis that increased LA intake may be a contributor to the obesity epidemic…The dissimilar results between this study and many others describing the effects of HFD [high fat diet] differing in FA [fatty acid] composition illustrates the need for carefully designing and reporting experimental diets and viewing results within that context.” (Mamounis KJ, et al., 2017)
Exposure to PUFAs (and the breakdown products of PUFAs) can promote increased circulation of (and synergize with) the stress substances (including cortisol, nitric oxide, serotonin and estrogen), and can powerfully suppress thyroid energy system metabolism. The resultant rise in stress is a major factor in the development of blood sugar dysregulation and fat deposition, and sugar might be the most powerful anti-stress substance available.
“PUFA may modulate the steroid hormone message, so that the high C20:4 [arachidonic acid] concentration…may help amplify the estrogen signal and inhibit the progesterone signal.” (Benassayag C, et al., 1999)
“Results presented here are among the first evidence that consumption of beverages sweetened with sugar, but not the artificial sweetener aspartame, inhibits stress-induced cortisol secretion in humans…” (Matthew S. Tryon, et al., 2015)
“Thyroid hormones are displaced from their binding proteins in serum during nonthyroidal somatic illness, and FFA [free fatty acids] have been claimed to contribute.All FFA tested were able to displace both T4, T3 and rT3, but to a varying degree, arachidonic and linoleic acid being the most potent ones…” (Bregengård C, et al., 1987)
In order to shed light on faulty thinking about ‘sugar’ (and improve awareness of what is at the root of many health issues), one thing that needs to happen, is for there to be a more accurate portrayal of what the ingredients are in foods being consumed.
It’s important not to blindly label things as ‘high sugar foods’, when they are filled with metabolism interfering fats and starches and harmful inflammatory chemicals, and very often don’t actually contain much in the way of white sugar or sucrose at all.
It’s also important not to assume that just because you consume sugar, and if you are having inflammation and blood sugar regulation issues, that it is sugar that is to blame.
When metabolic inflammatory issues have become chronic – often due to excessive exposure to polyunsaturated fats and other anti-metabolic stress promoting things – it can be easy to mistakenly assume that sugar is the cause of the issues.
But people can continue to react badly to many foods that have the potential to be highly therapeutic, reasonably long after stopping consumption of what was originally responsible for the damage or interference.
“…intake of HF [high fat] diets and chronic exposure to low levels of EDCs [endocrine-disrupting chemicals] found in foods and drinking water can lead to adverse effects on human health beyond a single generation.” (Sonia de Assis, et al., 2012)
Blood sugar dysregulation, inflammation, thyroid energy system interference, bacterial issues, digestive distress and liver damage – all of which have been shown to be worsened or caused by PUFAs and chronic increases in stress substance exposure – can take time to be reversed, causing all sorts of ongoing problems including lactose intolerance, fructose malabsorption, and negative reactions to sugar in general.
“Fifty two strains of…bacteria isolated from the upper gut of patients with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth were screened…Culture supernatant and deoxycholate, both alone and combined, significantly reduced lactase, sucrase, and maltase activity.” (Walshe K, et al., 1990)
“A total of 27 patients with a history of hypothyroidism demonstrated a positive result to the breath test (27 of 50, 54%), compared with two in the control group (two of 40, 5%)…Abdominal discomfort, flatulence, and bloating were significantly more prevalent in the bacterial overgrowth positive group.” (Lauritano EC, et al., 2007)
“…lactase activity…increased by consumption of various carbohydrates, including sucrose, fructose, galactose and glycerol…the glucose diet caused a slight increase in lactase activity…” (Tanaka T, et al., 1998)
Improving metabolic issues takes time (and trial and error), and this process is only made more difficult and confusing when symptoms are being blamed on ingredients that weren’t the cause of the issues, were combined with other highly problematic and harmful things, and in some cases were not actually even there in the first place.
Some do well with starches in their diet, but this is more likely to be true when metabolism and digestion is functioning in closer to optimal fashion. Potatoes are a highly nutritious starchy food for those who can handle them well.
If you don’t remove polyunsaturated fats from your diet (and eventually from storage in tissue) and if you continue to lump every carbohydrate together, it’s possible to have problems no matter what you try to do, and this can be confusing when people talk about fat and sugar as if all types are exactly alike.
It helps to remember that sugar restriction, which can lead to high cortisol (and rising levels of other stress substances), can (at least for a period of time), improve certain symptoms, sometimes even making a person feel quite euphoric. In many cases it can be hard to distinguish between what is helping long term health, and what is actually causing harm. But sugar is a necessary source of fuel for protection against stress, and the proper functioning of thyroid metabolism.
“…sugar may provide the fuel needed to meet the energetic demands of stress, which may reduce the need for glucocorticoid-driven energy catabolism and mobilization of the body’s energy stores.” (Matthew S. Tryon, et al., 2015)
Understanding different ways of measuring energy system function (like for instance watching symptoms in combination with using pulse and temperature tracking), can be very helpful.
Until one has spent some time experimenting with avoiding harmful anti-metabolic substances in order to heal the liver and improve digestion (gradually increasing the consumption of simple sugars as the body starts to be able to better handle them), it can be difficult to understand how much difference this can eventually make to metabolism, and how many symptoms can improve or be resolved.
Many people today are not really open to talking about the importance of simple sugar for metabolic health, and it’s not surprising. The scare tactics and fear mongering campaigns have been relentless. But the science showing the benefits of sugar are still available.
“…when sucrose was substituted, resting metabolic rate rose toward baseline values even though total caloric intake was unchanged and weight loss continued. The sucrose-induced rise in resting metabolic rate was accompanied by a rise in serum triiodothyronine values, but not plasma insulin or norepinephrine concentrations.” (R G Hendler, et al., 1986)
Popular belief systems about the harmfulness of sugar, are supported by science which generally fails to discuss the biological impact of different forms of carbohydrate, fails to consider what happens when sugar is combined with other metabolism interfering foods, and in particular disregards the long term, stressful, inflammatory, blood sugar dysregulating effects of the polyunsaturated fats. It’s much easier then, for the blame to be placed upon evil white sugar.
Because of this, many people are being influenced away from ever experiencing the metabolic improvements and health benefits, which can be achieved with a metabolically supportive diet including (among other things) simple sugars from milk, sweet fruit, fruit juice, honey and white sugar.
I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and I’m not here to tell you what to do. Read the arguments, look at the science, and make up your own mind.
The way things are going however, well informed, honest conversations about what ‘sugar’ actually is, and how much might truly be required to achieve closer to optimal metabolism, are going to become extinct.
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Comparison of the gut microbiota composition between obese and non-obese individuals in a Japanese population, as analyzed by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and next-generation sequencing
Glucose ingestion induces an increase in intranuclear nuclear factor kappaB, a fall in cellular inhibitor kappaB, and an increase in tumor necrosis factor alpha messenger RNA by mononuclear cells in healthy human subjects.