What is the risk of eating too much sugar?

Almost everyone loves something sweet to eat.   For some of us it is a treat and for others it has become a way of life.   However, what does it do to your body?   Yes it can quickly provide a boost of energy, but there is a subsequent crash afterwards.  It has no nutritional value.  What happens to our bodies if we are eating more than the recommended 100 calories of sugar a day (6 teaspoons) for women and children, or 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) for men?

Obesity

There are a number of causes of obesity such as eating too much processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle.  However, eating excess sugar certainly adds to someone’s daily calorie count, and if habitual, ultimately increases a person’s weight.   Just one can of a sugary drink a day can use up your entire recommended daily limit for sugar.  It can account for up to 10% of your recommended daily intake for calories of 2,000 calories a day for women and 8.7% of 2,300 calories a day for men.   Obesity causes many health problems, many of which are detailed below.

Heart Disease

16% of worldwide deaths are a result of heart disease which is caused by a range of factors such as age, gender, family history, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, stress, poor dental health and of course, poor diet.

A high sugar diet is a factor in the development of atherosclerosis which is a build up of fatty plaques in your arteries.   The plaque can impede the blood flow round your body by narrowing your arteries and putting pressure on your heart.   It can also burst and cause a blood clot.

Research has calculated that if your added sugar amount accounts for 17 to 21% of your daily calorie intake, this alone increases your risk of death from heart disease by 38% compared to those with an added sugar intake of less than 8%.

Type 2 Diabetes

For every 150 calories of sugar consumed, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes grows by 1.1%.  It is thought that one in 100 people in the UK will develop type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years.   There has been a doubling of numbers in the last 30 years alone. 

What happens is that your body starts to become resistant to insulin as a result of high sugar consumption.   Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which regulates your blood sugar levels by helping it enter the cells of your body so it can be used for energy.  It also ensures the liver stores some of the blood sugar for use in between meals.   Without insulin doing its job correctly, the body may find it has too much blood sugar in the bloodstream which is not responding to the insulin.   The pancreas will try to counter this by producing more insulin.  However, the body’s cells stop responding to all the insulin, resulting in the bloodstream having too much blood sugar and too much insulin and no way of resolving the situation. Without testing your blood sugar levels, diagnosing type 2 diabetes is difficult as the symptoms do not usually cause you to feel very unwell.  Having type 2 diabetes can increase your chances of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke, can lead to nerve damage, a loss of feeling and pain, foot problems, vision loss and blindness, miscarriage, still birth, kidney disease, and sexual problems.

Everyone’s risk increases with age says Diabetes UK. However for causasians, the risk increases after age 40. For African-Caribbean, Black African and South Asian people, this risk starts to increase after age 25. Anyone with a parent, sibling or child with diabetes is between two and six times more likely to develop the diease.

Diabetes blood sugar level check
Checking sugar levels in blood

Joint Pain and Arthritis

As well as obesity putting additional pressure on joints, studies have shown that a diet high in added sugar may prompt the body to excessively produce pro-inflammatory cytokines.  Cytokines are proteins which are important in cell signalling in your body in response to disease and infection, as well as inflammation, trauma, sepsis, cancer and reproduction.

Chronic inflammation can cause you to become depressed and/or anxious, experience body pain, fatigue and insomnia, constipation diarrhoea, acid reflux, weight gain and infections.

Acne

A number of studies have shown that a low sugar diet positively reduces the prevalence of acne.  High blood sugar levels incite your body to make more sebum which is secreted by your skin.   In combination with the pro-inflammatory cytokines mentioned above, this can cause acne to develop.  Reducing your sugar intake and following a low-glycemic diet for 12 weeks should result in a marked improvement to your skin.

Speeds Up Skin Aging Process

Eating excessive sugar causes the body to produce harmful free radicals called advanced glycation end products (AGEs).   The free radicals mess with the collagen and elastin in your skin causing both to stiffen, and become dry and brittle.  Over time, the skin starts to sag and develop wrinkles.

Speeds Up Cellular Aging

Studies in the US have concluded that drinking sugary soda beverages can shorten the length of telomeres which in turn can speed up the aging process of your body’s cells.   Telomeres are protective caps on the ends of your chromosomes which ensures that your DNA remains intact each time a cell divides.  One of the main factors of telomere shortening is oxidative stress which is caused by an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body.   It is therefore important to ensure your diet includes vitamins A, C and E to help keep the balance in check and slow the process of cellular aging.

Fatigue and Low Energy

Although you will get a shot of energy from eating a sugary snack or drink, your body quickly counters the high levels of sugar in the blood by producing equally high levels of insulin.  If the body has released too much insulin, it will cause the blood sugar levels to drop suddenly causing the slump which most people will have experienced. 

Dental Decay (cavities and gum disease)

Bacteria naturally lives in your mouth and it will react with the sugar you consume to produce acid which slowly dissolves your teeth over time.  This causes 1 in 3 adults to experience dental decay and 1 in 4 children.

Dental surgery
Dentist’s chair

Chromium Deficiency

The body uses chromium to enable insulin to do its metabolism work processing and storing carbohydrates, protein and fat in the body.  Research is still needed on this trace element to fully understand its role in the body and if supplements are beneficial or detrimental to health.   It is found in many foods and it is more easily absorbed into the body when consumed with vitamin C or niacin. 

Foods high in sugars such as sucrose or fructose are low in chromium.   So it is easy to see how chromium deficiency can start to prevail in the body of someone consuming above average amounts of sugar.  Reduced levels of chromium can cause weight loss, confusion, impaired coordination and lower the body’s insulin response to sugar in the blood which can then lead to diabetes.

Poorer Immunity

High blood sugar levels can activate your body’s immune system to repair damage to blood vessels and the effects of inflammatory cytokines.   If your immune system is occupied elsewhere in the body dealing with self-inflicted stresses, it does not have the capacity to also keep track of dangerous bacteria or viruses entering the body.   In the US, medics noticed a correlation between those in hospital with Covid having underlying health conditions such as diabetes and pre-diabetes.  Their bodies’ immune systems had not been able to tackle the invasion of Covid and had landed them in hospital.

Eating more nutrient poor, sugary foods will also give you poorer immunity as your immunity relies on nutrient rich foods in order to be maintained.

Irritability

Someone who is addicted to sugar may find themselves feeling irritated if there is a significant pause in their sugar consumption.   They may find this is alleviated by another sugar fix.   Cutting sugar completely out of your diet could prompt full blown addiction side-effects such as anxiety, confusion, fatigue and irritability as well as pain, nausea and flu like symptoms.  Reducing your sugar intake over time is less shocking for your body.

Depression

Numerous studies are showing there is a link between what people consume and the prevalence of depression.   Those consuming more fruit and vegetables and only occasional added sugar products are far less likely to experience depression than those on a high added sugar and processed food diet.

Can of soda
Fizzy drink can

Minimises Cortisol

Your adrenal glands produce the stress hormone cortisol.   Studies have shown that people who experience a lot of stress may find themselves eating more sugar as it has been found to inhibit the production of cortisol and reduce the associated anxiety.   However, this will put you on the pathway to obesity and other related conditions and not tackle the root cause of the stress.

Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

In the UK, 40 people a day die from liver disease and it is the leading cause of death in 35 to 49 year olds after suicide and accidental poisoning.  Most people associate alcohol with fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.  However, NAFLD caused by sugar consumption and obesity is set to overtake alcohol as the leading cause of liver disease in the next few years.   In fact, liver disease is the only cause of death on the increase in the UK and this is at odds with the rest of Europe, where the numbers are decreasing.

Symptoms of liver disease can take up to 20 years to appear and include jaundice, fatigue, a swollen abdomen, weight loss, a loss of appetite and pain around the liver area (right hand side under the rib cage). 

NAFLD and cirrhosis can ultimately cause liver cancer which has a poor prognosis. 

At present 12% of liver transplants in the UK are a result of obesity.   With two out of three adult overweight or obese and one in three children leaving primary school obese, numbers of people showing signs of NAFLD are increasing.  

Other Problems

High levels of added sugar consumption are also contributing factors to :

  • Sleep issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive issues
  • Brain fog
  • Poor cognition in children
  • Gout
  • the risk of dementia
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased risk of cancer

Weird Fact About Sugar

Dogs have a sweet tooth for sugar and cats apparently do not. I have not tested this!

Sources

The sweet danger of sugar – Harvard Health

11 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar Is Bad for You (healthline.com)

How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body? (webmd.com)

12 Potential Signs You’re Eating Too Much Sugar | Everyday Health

The Dangerous Truth About Added Sugar | Northwestern Medicine

Why is sugar bad for you? | BBC Good Food

10 Reasons Why Sugar is Bad for Your Body (atkins.com)

What Happens to Your Body When You Cut Out Added Sugar? (webmd.com)

Possible relation between consumption of different food groups and depression | BMC Psychology | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)

Sugar and the liver: what you need to know – British Liver Trust

The-alarming-impact-of-liver-disease-FINAL-June-2019.pdf (britishlivertrust.org.uk)

Markedly Blunted Metabolic Effects of Fructose in Healthy Young Female Subjects Compared With Male Subjects | Diabetes Care | American Diabetes Association (diabetesjournals.org)

5 Signs That Sugar Is Aging Your Face | Eminence Organic Skin Care

Is Sugar Ever Healthy? Its Impacts on Immunity | MaxLiving

Chromium – Health Professional Fact Sheet (nih.gov)

Effect of high glucose on nitric oxide production and endothelial nitric oxide synthase protein expression in human glomerular endothelial cells – PubMed (nih.gov)

The effects of diet on inflammation: emphasis on the metabolic syndrome – PubMed (nih.gov)

Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation – PubMed (nih.gov)

National, regional, and global trends in fasting plasma glucose and diabetes prevalence since 1980: systematic analysis of health examination surveys and epidemiological studies with 370 country-years and 2·7 million participants – PubMed (nih.gov)

Acne: prevalence and relationship with dietary habits in Eskisehir, Turkey – PubMed (nih.gov)

Dietary components in the development of leptin resistance – PubMed (nih.gov)

Sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain in children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)

Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – PubMed (nih.gov)

How Does Sugar Affect Sleep? – The Sleep Doctor

Can the right diet get rid of acne? (aad.org)

About us – Action on Sugar

Sugar and health – Action on Sugar

Sugars and tooth decay – Action on Sugar

10 Interesting Facts About Sugar – Agiboo

Effects of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption on Microvascular and Macrovascular Function in a Healthy Population (ahajournals.org)

Insulin Resistance and Diabetes | CDC

This is the ‘worst food ingredient for your immune system,’ says immunologist and health expert (cnbc.com)

Type 2 diabetes | What it is and what causes it | Diabetes UK

The Connection Between Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure (endocrineweb.com)

12 Potential Signs You’re Eating Too Much Sugar | Everyday Health

7 hidden side effects of sugar | HCF

The sweet danger of sugar – Harvard Health

Your Anxiety Loves Sugar. Eat These 3 Things Instead (healthline.com)

Top 7 Foods That Can Cause Acne (healthline.com)

11 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar Is Bad for You (healthline.com)

Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

Heart disease – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

Why is sugar bad for you? 5 reasons (medicalnewstoday.com)

What is oxidative stress? Effects on the body and how to reduce (medicalnewstoday.com)

Does sugar cause inflammation? What the research says (medicalnewstoday.com)

Even modest consumption of added sugar may affect the liver (medicalnewstoday.com)

15 Sweet Facts About Sugar | Mental Floss

Chromium Deficiency – Disorders of Nutrition – MSD Manual Consumer Version (msdmanuals.com)

Nitric Oxide Synthesis Is Reduced in Subjects With Type 2 Diabetes and Nephropathy – PMC (nih.gov)

The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data – PMC (nih.gov)

Excessive Sugar Consumption May Be a Difficult Habit to Break: A View From the Brain and Body – PMC (nih.gov)

Type 2 diabetes – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Sugar: the facts – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

The Dangerous Truth About Added Sugar | Northwestern Medicine

New Evidence Of How High Glucose Damages Blood Vessels Could Lead To New Treatments — ScienceDaily

New Evidence Of How High Glucose Damages Blood Vessels Could Lead To New Treatments — ScienceDaily

How Does Sugar Affect Sleep? | Sleep.org

How Sugar Consumption Contributes to Acne and Aging | Acne and Aging Irvine | Total Dermatology | Irvine, CA

Sugared Soda Consumption, Cell Aging Associated in New Study | UC San Francisco (ucsf.edu)

Content – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center

Sugar Intake’s Impact on Blood Pressure (verywellhealth.com)

Sugar Overload Effects | Eating too Much Sugar | Complete Care (visitcompletecare.com)

How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body? (webmd.com)

What Happens to Your Body When You Cut Out Added Sugar? (webmd.com)

The top 10 causes of death (who.int)

What is a telomere? | Facts | yourgenome.org

Personal Risk Geek

The Personal Risk Geek is passionate about assessing personal risk. If you have ever wondered how much of a risk something is, find out here.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *