Sugar, the Great “Food” Deceiver

Our association with sugar often contains fond memories.  Little girls are described as “sugar and spice and everything nice.”  Most social events are associated with some kind of sugar exposure.   I remember when we were raising our children that one of the highlights for them and probably also for me was the parent-child date, when we went out to get the chocolate dipped ice cream cones.  Sugar and chocolate seem to relieve depression, or when we are down in the dumps we can get a little sugar high and that helps with the mood.  Incentives in school and family are often sweets.  Memories of Christmas stockings, Easter, Halloween are filled with sugar treats. Suckers at the bank or in purses or pockets to quiet unhappy toddlers are a common event in our society.

I’m going to get up on my soapbox a bit, and talk to you about one of the greatest health concerns I see in my practice.  It is so common and so constant that it is deceptive.  Very few people will admit it, but most people are addicted to it.  I will explain why and how that is the case later, but for now, let’s talk about…SUGAR, the great food deceiver.

We are bombarded with it.   Every occasion that calls for celebration features a plethora of choices:  candy, pastries, cakes, cookies, brownies, ice cream, cream puffs, éclairs, shakes, donuts, frozen popsicles, gum, soda pop.  The list could continue almost endlessly, because the bulk of our food contains sugar.  Even the most unlikely candidates for sugar inclusion contain sugar, because it is such an addictive substance.  Amazingly, meat often contains it; pasta dishes frequently have it as well.

A recent study that I featured on my website, along with my comments (www.stangardnermd.com), refers to a study that concludes that sugar is as addictive as heroin, and potentially even more harmful, because of its far-reaching effects and its deceptive acceptance in our diet.  That entry drew over 42 comments from readers, many of them begging for help to get off the sugar habit. (If you’re one of those—keep reading!  I have an important announcement—and request—coming up).

Various Deceiving Roles Refined Sugar Plays in Your Body

There are various deceiving roles that sugar plays in yours and my bodies.  Let’s first of all talk about what happens with the ingestion of sugar.  When sugar is ingested and enters the mouth, the organisms in the mouth use sugar for energy and become more active.  The byproduct of this activity or metabolism is acid production, which starts to wear down the teeth and cause cavities.  Unfortunately, many dentists are still using mercury fillings that they call silver fillings or amalgam fillings.  The sugar causes the initial problem by contributing to cavity formation; then the mercury toxicity from mercury amalgam fillings over subsequent years is clearly related to neurological difficulties, muscle problems (including in the heart)—and it also affects the immune system.

Another major problem with sugar and refined carbohydrates in the mouth is it feeds Candida infection, which may be found anywhere: from the mouth, esophagus, down through the large intestine and rectum.  Because Candida uses sugar for metabolism and energy, Candida is better able to divide, multiply and morph into a more toxic form with sugar as fuel.

One last problem with sugar ingestion before it gets into the stomach where absorption takes place is the neurochemical changes that sugar triggers in the brain.  These are related to actual tongue stimulation, which sets off immediate changes in the brain.  The brain, unfamiliar with this type of onslaught, evidences behaviors which are not uncommonly seen in children, such as hyperactivity, anxiety, crankiness and diminished concentration and depression.  All of these can significantly affect school performance.  Some people experience drowsiness instead of hyperactivity.  Interestingly, recently presented data at a neuropsychopharmacology conference demonstrated that some of these neurochemical changes are the same changes that occur in people ingesting alcohol and other addictive substances.  Clearly, sugar is an addictive substance.

Now, let’s talk about what happens with sugar or refined carbohydrates after they leave the mouth and are ingested into the gastrointestinal tract.  Of particular interest are insulin and sugar.  Increased insulin production due to sugar intake will eventually lead to insulin resistance.  Since refined sugar requires no metabolism or digestive processes for breakdown, sugar is immediately absorbed into the body, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar or blood glucose levels.  The pancreas anticipates this rise and releases insulin, anticipating not only the amount of sugar in the stomach, but that there will be a meal following.  Often too much insulin is secreted, which drops the blood sugar to a level below where the body functions optimally.  This sets up a stress hormone reaction in the adrenal gland, and epinephrine, or adrenaline, is released to handle the stress.  When adrenaline is released, it sends a message to the liver to break down glycogen stores (which are many glucose molecules hooked together) to release glucose into the blood stream.  This corrects the low blood sugar level.  Adrenalin makes many people feel anxious, nervous, and irritable; their heart rate may also go up.  These adrenaline symptoms are perceived by the body as stress, and many people have discovered that if they eat sugar when their blood sugar is low, then their blood glucose will immediately rise and take away these symptoms. Unfortunately, with the body’s normal mechanisms of correcting low blood sugar and the ingestion of a sweet, the blood glucose may again go too high. The pancreas secretes too much insulin (again), dropping the blood sugar too much (again). If another candy sweet is ingested two hours after the first one, and the liver kicks in increasing glycogen breakdown, blood sugar rises too high, which triggers the pancreas to secrete more insulin, and gets into this endless cycle.

This could all be avoided if the carbohydrates were not in the refined state.  Carbohydrates in the complex form (like whole grains, legumes, vegetables) take time for the body to break down and much slower absorption would then take place. After years of being on a roller coaster with too much sugar and too much insulin, the cell walls of the cells in the body become thick and there is a reduced number of the insulin receptors in these cells. Because the insulin can no longer drive the blood sugar into the cells as rapidly as it could before, the blood sugar rises, the pancreas continues to excrete insulin and pretty soon, we have what’s called insulin resistance. This is a chronic problem of high blood sugars or high normal blood sugars with an elevation in the insulin. Eventually, this will be the cause and source of diabetes type two.

What do consistently high levels of insulin do in our body? High insulin levels block the conversion of triglycerides into energy. Glucose and triglycerides are the two major sources for energy or ATP production. When triglycerides are blocked with consistently high insulin levels, there is a rise in the triglycerides, which is a precursor for cholesterol.  As the cholesterol and triglyceride levels rise, there’ll be a greater deposition of these fat molecules into the body with associated weight gain.

Another problem with high insulin levels is that there is an increase in sodium and water retention, which leads to hypertension and edema or water retention in the body.  Insulin is also associated with increasing testosterone levels, which causes androgen effects.  Some of the androgen effects that women don’t like are blemishes that appear and increased hair growth.  (Although today most everybody likes the muscle building effects of increased testosterone levels).

The effects of high blood sugar in the body are many and varied.  If the blood sugar is high enough, then the sugar will bind to proteins.  This is given a fancy name called glycosylation or glycation.  All that means is that the glucose is binding to proteins.  If glucose binds to the proteins in the red blood cell, then it decreases oxygen delivery to the cells and increases its stickiness.  This will cause clumping of red blood cells, which will diminish the ability of the blood stream to carry nutrients to areas and it will actually cause microinfarcts because these clumped red blood cells cannot pass through capillaries and will block the supply of blood.

When the glucose binds to a nerve cell, it will cause tingling or pain or numbness in that nerve area.  This is most often seen in the feet and is called neuropathy.  Unfortunately, there may be unrecognized skin breakdown with subsequent infections because of the sensory nerves having difficulty assessing damage to the skin.

When the sugar binds to a blood vessel wall, it causes inflammation and vascular disease.  Inflammation is the beginning point of vascular disease, with its subsequent clotting and trapping of red blood cells, white cells, platelets and release of iron and copper.  The release of iron and copper from the red blood cells will increase free radical releases.  These are actually catalysts for free radical acceleration with subsequent free radical damage.  The release of serotonin from the platelets will cause local inflammation and vasoconstriction or constriction of the blood vessels.  This will eventually lead to an increase in incidence of strokes and heart attacks, hypertension, and kidney failure.  Between the clumping of the red blood cells and the microinfarcts and the inflammation in the blood vessel wall, the blood vessel system is compromised, which reduces nutrients, oxygen, and the ability of the blood vessels to get rid of waste products, causing cyanotic (blue because of lack of oxygen) feet or limbs.

When the glucose binds to the LDL or a low density lipoprotein, which is a cholesterol molecule, then cholesterol synthesis will be increased, resulting in more fat storage.  When glucose binds to the protein in the lens of the eye, it is a cause of cataracts.

When the blood sugar is elevated, the body makes every attempt it can to reduce the blood sugar.  One of the ways it does this is by converting glucose into triglycerides.  Triglycerides are precursors for cholesterol, and as the cholesterol or triglyceride levels rise, more fat is deposited in the body.

Sugar is a known pro-inflammatory substance.  All inflammation causes free radical damage.  All inflammatory diseases have been attributed to rises in blood sugar levels and exposure to sugar on a chronic basis.  These inflammatory diseases include arthritis, migraine headaches, the vascular disease that we’ve already talked about, emphysema, and eczema.  Food allergies, rise in blood pressure and even symptoms of multiple sclerosis are increased upon exposure to sugar.  Asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis all can lay a good part (if not all) of the blame onto sugar.   Even cancer has been specifically associated with high-blood sugar levels.  Cancer cells have 15x more insulin receptors than regular cells.  They will even make their own insulin to bring sugar in.  Breast cancer, ovarian, prostate, rectal, colon, and gall bladder cancers all have been documented to be associated with higher sugar intakes.  In fact, once the cancer has started it is an obligate sugar consumer, and sugars and all carbohydrates (because they break into the glucose molecule) feed cancers.  All inflammatory diseases also accelerate aging with loss of elasticity and function of tissue.

Because blood sugar and sugar ingestion causes inflammation, this will be a stress on the body, which will activate the sympathetic nervous system.  The stresses of sugar cause a decrease in GI tract motility or movement in the gastrointestinal tract, which increases the amount of acid reflux.  This is why we often get acid reflux when we are stressed.  Sugar also slows down the motility in the stomach, small and large intestines, and colon, causing constipation.  Constipation is commonly associated with hemorrhoids, colitis, and diverticulitis.  Often when we find sugar that is ingested, it is ingested without associated fiber, which also contributes to constipation.

High blood sugar levels cause an increased excretion or loss of certain minerals out of the kidneys, including calcium and chromium.  Of course, this eventually leads to a calcium deficiency with the possibility of contributing to osteopenia and osteoporosis.  A chromium deficiency increases insulin resistance.  The elevated blood sugar also decreases absorption of magnesium and calcium which again contribute to the calcium deficiency.

Many nutrients are used up in the process of metabolizing sugar.  Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body, as it is utilized in more biochemical reactions than any other single mineral or vitamin in the body.  With the diminished magnesium absorption and increased utilization of magnesium to metabolize sugar, it is not uncommon to have a magnesium deficiency in people with insulin resistance and diabetes.  Manganese is also used up in sugar metabolism.  Manganese is a critical co-factor in superoxide dismutase (SOD), which is one of the major anti-oxidants in the body and found in all the cells of the body.

Cobalt is also metabolized with sugar.  It is an important part of vitamin B12.  That’s why it’s called Cobalamine because it’s a Cobalt molecule that is inside the cell.  Zinc is utilized in sugar metabolism, and it is important for hair and skin, strength, and for the immune system.  In a deficiency, there tend to be skin problems, hair problems, and a drop in the immune system.  Many of the B vitamins are utilized, especially vitamin B1, or thiamine.  Thiamine deficiency is highly tied into energy metabolism, and it’s not uncommon to have heart arrhythmia or skin swelling with a thiamine deficiency.

High blood sugar levels also cause an immune system deficiency.  The phagocytes, which are the cells in the body which chew up foreign material including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and break-down products, are not as effective when high blood sugar levels are found in the blood stream.

One last topic associated with high blood sugar is what happens during pregnancy.  High blood sugar levels actually have the capability of affecting the DNA of the fetus and newborn child.  This results in that child having more illnesses, and typically a shorter life span than children not exposed to sugar.  Sugar has a genetic effect on jaw size, which tends to be reduced in the subsequent generation, and as this is passed on from generation to generation, jaw size is reduced to the point where orthodontic work is needed just to create straight teeth.

On my website, www.stangardnermd.com, I made an announcement several weeks ago about a program that I am developing to help people with their health issues—so that they can change from sick and fatigued to feeling dynamic health and energy.  If this article is of interest to you, I invite you to visit the site, and let me know your hopes and wishes for this program.  My objective is to help everyone who desires to be healthier achieve their goal.

In my next article, I have included some real life situations and tips on getting rid of the sugar habit.  I’ll also help you to think of ways to relegate sugar to an unimportant, rarely-ingested status.  In the meantime, please feel free to share your stories with me.  I may include them in my next article!  If you have an interesting recipe that helps relieve cravings for sweets, let us know.  Just make sure your recipes don’t use Splenda, Equal, NutraSweet or similar saccharine products, or any ones that contain aspartame.

Get your mind and heart ready for a significant change.  Change is possible.  It’s not rocket science, and many thousands, if not millions, have achieved it.  You can too!  Get well.  You deserve it!  To your dynamic health and energy, Dr. Stan Gardner

27 Comments

  • Terri
    February 2, 2009 - 7:36 am | Permalink

    I am very interested in this subject. About 3 weeks ago, I started on the South Beach Diet because of weight gain over the past few years (I am 53). I have always tried to eat somewhat healthy, but after reading your well written and explained article about sugar, not healthy enough. I now believe, because of your article, that I may have a sugar addiction. I have never used chemical sugar substitutes before as is allowed with SBD, yet I find that I still want sugar. I also am having some bodily function problems that I thought would go away with SBD. Several years ago, I tried the Atkins diet for a short while, and I did not have these same problems I am experiencing now. I wonder if the sugar substitute is making my body think I am still ingesting sugar. In addition, for years I have cravings for sugar for several days before my period begins. Obviously, there is a hormonal connection. I eagerly, anxiously, and desperately look forward to your program.

    P.S. I think we may have been in the Philippines at the same time. Your name sounds familiar. I was there as a teenager with my parents in Makati from 1969-1971. I think you may have attended a stake dance?

  • Penny Hardy
    February 2, 2009 - 9:08 am | Permalink

    Excellent article, I have been working on getting off sugar and can do well for a week or so, then I have a piece of Chocolate and it starts all over again.

    Hopefully your next article can help me kick the habit forever.

    I would like to get my blood sugar lower naturally.

    I think that maybe reading your article above will remind me to stay clear of sugar as my life depends on it.

  • Sue
    February 2, 2009 - 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your warning about the perils of sugar. Sugar poisoning is a problem that we should all be aware in our society.

    One summer afternoon we snacked liberally of freshly picked blueberries as we swam in a friend’s pool. That evening my 2 yr-old granddaughter could not stop talking and moving. When it was time for bed, she was jittery and couldn’t even lay still. She had to be gently held still and rocked so she could go to sleep. My daughter has always greatly limited her children’s sugar intake, but that day was one more reminder that even too much fruit or fruit juice can contribute to a problem of hyperactivity.

    People who give sugar in any form to babies or small children are probably trying to be kind, but in reality can be setting up the child for health and behavior problems.

  • casalinda
    February 2, 2009 - 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the article. I knew sugar was not healthful, but it is much worse than I thought! I have been trying to eliminate processed sugars from my diet by substituting natural, organic sweeteners such as: agave nectar, honey, and sucanat. Is this a wise course, or do I need to eliminate these, also?

  • February 2, 2009 - 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Casalinda, The natural organic sweeteners are better than refined sugar because they retain some of the nutrients needed for the metabolism of sugar. However, if you are addicted to sugar, then any sweetener will maintain the addiction and needs to be eliminated. Fruit should be our main source of sweet taste.

  • February 2, 2009 - 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Terri, We were in the Philippines from 1976-80, so unfortunately missed seeing you there.

  • Judy Jensen
    February 3, 2009 - 11:42 am | Permalink

    I, too, have an addiction to sugar. I am diabetic and still can’t get off the darn stuff. I would be grateful for any help you can give. This was a fantastic article. Very informative. Judy

  • February 4, 2009 - 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Please tell me where to get the “how to” article or is it just cold turkey. Also, you mentioned a nutritionist. I think I need to do the elimination diet. Is there info on that?

  • Dixie Ellett
    February 6, 2009 - 9:07 am | Permalink

    Thank You for this amazing informative article. So much detail in the workings of our bodies. I know that I am a sugar-a-holic. Please keep writing these articles. Thanks!! Dixie

  • February 7, 2009 - 6:07 am | Permalink

    Judy, Carol, Things that help some people with their sugar addictions are: Gymnema, chromium, L-glutamine, 5-HTP (if there is a serotonin deficiency in the brain). Sweeteners can be a transition in some people (like xylitol or stevia), but it continues to feed the addiction. Ultimately, a decision to stop is made, and will power must be exercised. Fortunately, most people have diminished cravings after 2 weeks, but that first bite will bring all the cravings back again.

  • Sally Farb
    February 23, 2009 - 9:49 am | Permalink

    for a sugar craving try a nut butter (one without sugar, check the label) on a veggie. i don’t like celery, so i put it on carrots. it works for me!

  • aimee
    February 23, 2009 - 9:57 am | Permalink

    I’m also trying to get off sugar. I was happy to discover Xagave which has helped tremendously. I’ve used other agave products but this one tastes great and has more nutritional benefits than others. I do all my baking and cooking with it now. My family loves it and so do I.

  • Jocasta Hodges
    February 23, 2009 - 10:08 am | Permalink

    I have known for some time that I am addicted to sugar. In September I cut out (for the most part) white refined flour and white refined sugar. I weigh every six weeks. Last time I weighed, I was down 20 pounds in 18 weeks. I look better, but more importantly, I feel better. This whole experience has made me want to learn more about sugar and its addictive nature. I appreciated your article. I read it on Meridian Magazine. I look forward to your future articles and will save your website in my “favorites” list. Thank you!

  • meli
    February 23, 2009 - 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Where do I begin to end a sugar addiction?

  • Brooke
    February 23, 2009 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Amazing. On Feb. 16th, I started a ‘sugar fast’. It lasted 3.5 days before I got too stressed and broke down and had some sugar. Since then I haven’t stopped with the sugar. I know I’m addicted to it and I’m sure my family is as well. Please share how to break the cycle!
    I also found this article on Meridian Magazine and have found many things on this site that have been on my mind lately. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I’ll be joining your mailing list. Thank you!

  • February 23, 2009 - 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Sally, Amee, Thank you for your ideas on how to shift off sugar to more healthy products. I hope others are reading this and try these suggestions.
    Jocasta, Congratulations for getting off sugar and seeing the positive health benefits from doing so. This is an inspiration to others that it can be done.
    Meli, Brooke, You might be interested in the program that we are setting up to not only help with sugar addiction, but to lead everyone to more dynamic health and energy. Stay tuned.

  • Misty
    February 24, 2009 - 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I have always wanted to be free of my sugar addiction. I have always called it an addiction (even though my husband thinks that is too strong of a term) and have felt that our sugar addiction (in our nation) is so out of control and dangerous. I hate the feeling of having something, anything, control me so completely. I am reading all of this and watching that video and feeling totally overwhelmed and depressed actually. Doesn’t it seem impossible to anyone except me? It just feels so impossible. We have 6 kids. My life is hard and I know that my health makes it so. If my body functioned the way it was intended I could do this. I don’t know. I look forward to reading more…but I am afraid it will just be too hard to actually do. It just feels like I (and my family) would have to be in a bubble to avoid all that sugar. I was in the store yesterday and passed by a big display of easter candy. I just got through valentines. Help!

  • Liza Wright
    February 24, 2009 - 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I, too, am addicted to sugar and looking forward to hearing tips to get off of it. My son just did a science fair project on artificial sweeteners and I think they are even worse. All have health risks associated with them (that the FDA doesnt tell you about) and apparantly Splenda is in the same family as DDT and other pesticides…yuck.
    In reading this new book called sweet deception, I have found that other alternative sweeteners like agave nectar, are not that far from sugar, and sometimes just corn syrup mislabled as agave nectar. apparently stevia is the best, but I have no idea how to use it.
    I know I need to do this with my whole family to be successful. I reallize I need a lot of help to break this sugar addiction. I hope to hear more soo!

  • February 26, 2009 - 9:17 am | Permalink

    I have spent almost 20 years in the weight loss industry with one program or another. I decided to quit the field and I got into an alternative magazine publication. I have learned so much about good health in the alternative area. So, I was excited when I found a healthy diet program called Lite for Life. I got back into the field mainly because this is a great program. It focuses on eating healthy whole foods and getting the “sugar out!” I have had clients recover from chronic fatigue, pain from arthritis (inflammation from sugar goes away), depression and other ills. It is remarkable. (I’ve only been open for 8 months) We do not push products although we have a “lite food market” which has whole foods with no sugars and no artificial sweeteners. I now strongly believe that sugar is a huge culprit in obesity and disease. It is paramount in the fight against obesity that we stabilize blood sugars and one way to do this is to get it out of our foods. I am passionate about this and we need to educate everyone!

  • marilyn
    February 28, 2009 - 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Dear Dr. Gardner,
    Thank you for your informative and encouraging article. From my earliest memory, I have turned to sugar and chocolate to soothe the pain, anxiety, depression and loneliness which, I suppose began with considerable disfunction in my family of origin, and divorce of my parents, etc. More recently digestive problems have increased, and lack of energy become an even greater challenge. I take a handfull of nutritional supplements with every meal, at the recommendation of my naturopathic healthcare provider in an effort to cope with my physical challenges. We have 7 children, our youngest having died of cancer at age 16 in 1993. My health has deteriorated considerably since then. I am fully aware that emotional stress can be a significant contributor. I am now 72, am 5’7″ tall, weigh 137 lbs, and exercise daily, so being overweight is not a problem. In fact in the past year I have lost 20-25 lbs after trying to cope with suspected gluten & lactose allergies. I have suffered with an increasingly broad spectrum of symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, etc., and it is no surprise that I constantly battle candida overgrowth. I’ve known for a very long time that sugar addiction is a main part of my problem and reading about the many ways it can harm my health rings so very true. Many times I have tried and failed to break the sugar habit. Each time I’ve failed, I kick myself for being so weak and lacking in faith. This habit, I know, is robbing me of the quality of life I long for. I would especially like to learn more ways of making healthful food easy to prepare and more appetizing! Eagerly I look forward to your tips on kicking the sugar habit!
    Sincerly,
    Marilyn Hatcher

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  • March 3, 2009 - 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Misty, Lisa, Marilyn, We are working feverishly on the release of a program that will lead us all to more dynamic health and energy. The content is pretty much finished–stay tuned.

  • Stephanie
    March 9, 2009 - 1:51 pm | Permalink

    My husband and I have figured out that sugar is the source of many of our problems. We are trying to stay away from it and look forward to your new program.

  • Pingback: Topics about Vitamins » Sugar, the Great “Food” Deceiver

  • Ann Wyatt
    August 11, 2009 - 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I too suffered from sugar addiction. There is an amazing website called Emotional Freedom Technique which uses a ‘tapping’ technique to assist with all kinds of difficulties. Gary Craig is the ‘expert’ and there is information in the newsletter archives about sugar addiction and how to use the tapping technique to help you get over it. You can also find a demonstration on youtube . I found that following the demonstrator each day meant that she did the ‘wording’ for me. It didn’t take long and was very worthwhile. You will be amazed at how many things related to emotion and stress it cures. I highly recommend it and as a teacher I use it every day with my classes to help my students to get rid of stress. Good luck. Ann

  • September 15, 2009 - 12:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks Stan, I am so glad to see someone speak up on this. We all need to be more educated. I want to quit sugar but it is very, very hard. I have switched to using xylithol, but eating someone else’s baked goods are tempting. I know they are loaded with too many chemicals and GM foods but if your blood sugar is low you just dive in and eat it. It takes a lot of prep time to always be prepared and when you work and do volunter jobs it is hard to eat properly. Am anxious to learn more from you!

  • Ann Watson
    April 20, 2010 - 11:25 am | Permalink

    I am new to this website. Has this program been released yet? If so, how do I find it?

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