The Not So Sweet Side Of Sugar: Understanding America’s drug of choice and how to prevent the downward spiral.
By: Dr. Shawna Eischens
How can one tiny, but popular carbohydrate be responsible for pleasurable euphoria, while creating addictive behavior and systemic detrimental effects? Sugar is necessary for us to think and function, but the trend of increased sweetened beverages and food is destroying our health.
Although sugar is not considered a drug, it has addictive and destructive capabilities similar to drugs. In one particular study, rats were given a choice between sweetened water and cocaine. A shocking 94% preferred the sweet taste of saccharin over the euphoric high of cocaine. This preference for sugar is at an all time high for humans and it’s not just for artificial sugars like saccharin. It is recommended to avoid artificial sugars like “Splenda” and aspartame. Although they may not increase your blood glucose like sugar, they still have addictive qualities, can promote increased weight, dental issues, and neurological problems.
Sugar comes in many forms and may require you to read labels to increase awareness. Beware of ingredients like dextrose, fructose, caramel, barley malt, corn syrup (and solids), fruit juice, lactose, maltose, and maltodextrin although there are many others. You may be shocked to know that two of the worst forms are high-fructose corn syrup and agave due to the body not being able to regulate man-made fructose. These products push your liver to increase triglycerides and fat, while turning off your appetite regulation contributing to more food intake.
How can something so small and seemingly benign do so much harm? Since the body functions as a whole, what we eat, do, and think affects us as a whole. Let’s take a look at glucose and how it can have a domino effect.
It’s just about time for lunch when fragrant food alerts you to begin your digestive system’s intelligent process. Your brain communicates with nerves that tell your body to stimulate enzymes and secretions even before food is consumed. By the time you take your first bite, the salivary enzymes go to work. Food then travels from your mouth to your esophagus and stomach. The stomach is a powerful disposal fueled by hydrochloric acid and more enzymes to break down lunch into future energy. This mixture is almost ready to enter the land of absorption known as the small intestine, but needs a few partners first to facilitate digestion.
The pancreas works hard producing enzymes and hormones around the clock, but now that food is present, insulin and enzymes are most abundant. The liver has produced bile to be stored in the gallbladder, then released to help emulsify and digest fats. In the first portion of the small intestine, the duodenum welcomes bile and pancreatic fluids to be able to process and absorb proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, the body’s main source of energy for cells all over your body. Too much glucose in the blood can be harmful so the body requests insulin to move it into the cells through specific transporters. If people don’t make enough insulin or don’t recognize the transporters they have, the result is elevated blood sugar (hyperglycemia). The solution for hyperglycemia is not necessarily more insulin, but rather ingesting less glucose. Less glucose requires less insulin. Less insulin places less demand on the pancreas and affected transporters and cells. Insulin is a fat building hormone so the more insulin present, the more fat stored.
Hyperglycemia produces oxidative stress and can have harmful mental and physical effects. People with high blood sugar may likely develop diabetes mellitus as well as neuropathy, vision issues, and kidney concerns. Since small vessels (retina, nerves, kidney, and endothelium) don’t require insulin for glucose to enter, toxic amount of glucose and water can damage these areas in particular. Heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure are a few risks related to chronic hyperglycemia. Higher levels of anti-oxidants like Vitamin C and E, selenium, alpha-lipoic acid, CoQ10, and curcumin can help decrease the harmful effects that high blood sugar levels cause whether a person has diabetes or not.
Prevention is always best so what can you do to prevent the detrimental effects of diabetes, insulin resistance, or obesity?
- Move your body! Exercise is the jackpot to balance blood sugar levels and increase health.
- Exercise allows your cells to use your own insulin more effectively.
- Muscular contraction through exercise allows glucose to be used properly for energy instead of wreaking havoc in your blood.
- Movement increases circulation, improves cardiovascular health, and decreases triglyceride markers.
- More endorphins=better mood, less emotional eating and sugar cravings.
- Caloric expenditure creates less adipose tissue and weight.
**Daily movement, especially after eating is beneficial for blood sugar regulation.**
- Less than 6 hours of sleep affects hormones that increase appetite.
- Stress increases cortisolàcortisol increases blood sugar and weight.
- Fuel your body with real nutrition.
- All carbohydrates are broken down into sugars. Avoid breads, cookies, pasta, soda, potatoes, corn, milk, and excess fruit/fruit juice.
- Avoid excess saturated fat, high fructose corn syrup, and alcohol to prevent weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
- Choose foods higher in protein, fat, and fiber to balance blood sugar levels and decrease food cravings.
- Say “yes” to vegetables, wild fish, eggs, olive oil, garlic, nuts (except cashews), seeds, organic meat, cinnamon, green tea, flax, and chia.
- Zinc is needed for insulin metabolism and potassium is needed for every molecule of sugar that enters cells. Fill your plate with rich sources like turkey, lamb, salmon, quinoa, pumpkin and sesame seeds, spinach, chard, avocado, and mushrooms.
- Vitamin D and fish oil have been shown to prevent type 1 diabetes. Not all products are created equal; ask your naturopathic physician for guidance on the best products for you.
The human body is beautifully designed to intuitively stay in balance. Due to an increase in sugary and processed foods, as well as sedentary lifestyles, many people have blood sugar imbalances including diabetes, obesity, and insulin resistance. If you would like to learn more on how to heal and prevent or reverse blood sugar issues, contact Dr. E at Rockwood Natural Medicine Clinic at 480-767-7119.