Inflammation is the fire in your body thought to be at the root of all chronic disease. But did you know it can be ignited by sugar?
It’s Sugar Awareness Week, so read on to discover the link between sugar and inflammation and it’s effects on our health.
Inflammation seems to be the new buzzword, and with good reason because it’s been linked to almost all the chronic diseases existing today.
It’s a perfectly natural process, your body’s reaction to injury or trauma to help you heal. If you bang your thumb with a hammer or turn your ankle, messenger chemicals are released into your bloodstream, recruiting immune cells to attack and destroy the source of inflammation. This causes warmth, redness, tenderness and swelling and kickstarts your body’s repair processes.
Most people think of inflammation as being short-lived, and this type of acute inflammation will subside when your body heals. Problems only arise when inflammation smoulders on unabated. When this happens, the very chemicals designed to protect you begin to damage your cells and tissues, even harming your DNA. When your body’s inflammatory chemicals remain high, this is termed chronic inflammation.
Health issues arising from out-of-control inflammation include heart disease, auto-immune issues, allergies, mood disorders, chronic pain, digestive problems, fatigue, insomnia and even cancer. Anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce the symptoms, but the cause of the inflammation will still be there, rumbling in the background.
Many factors in your environment can encourage this kind of chronic inflammation, including stress, lack of sleep and a poor diet. Sugar is a major culprit in encouraging inflammation. Science has discovered refined sugars – those added to foods, rather than naturally found in fruit and vegetables – are connected with elevated levels of inflammatory chemicals in the blood.
When you eat sugar, certain types of fatty acids are produced in your liver, causing inflammatory compounds to be produced. Sugar plays havoc with your microbiome, too, encouraging the pro-inflammatory types of bacteria to flourish.
Studies have shown consuming sugary foods and drinks is linked with an increased risk of developing many chronic illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease to name a few, and may even be connected with a greater risk of cancer. The effect is significant – one study of over 75,000 women found a 98% increased risk of heart disease among those who consumed the most sugar.
Inflammation doesn’t simply spike immediately after sugar has been eaten but can last several hours afterwards. If you eat a sweet breakfast, sugary snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and something sweet after dinner, it’s easy to see how your inflammation levels could remain high all day long.
Sugar comes in many different disguises and is ubiquitous in processed foods. They often contain more than one source of added sugar. It may be listed on the label as glucose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, rice syrup, maltodextrin or fructose, but there are many other different names for sugar.
So if you eat processed foods you can’t avoid eating added sugar. Even savoury items like canned vegetables, dressings, soups and tomato sauce have significant amounts sugar added to them.
Many sweetened beverages contain a type of fructose called high-fructose corn syrup. This has been processed to produce a concentrated form of fructose, strongly linked to inflammation. So, sugary drinks pack a concentrated punch of inflammation, often with zero nutritional value.
On the other hand, the type of fructose naturally found in fruits and vegetables isn’t linked with inflammation. In plant foods, the sugars are accompanied by a host of other nutrients, including fibre, slowing the release of the sugar into the blood. This means fruits and vegetables help your body reduce inflammation.
Since sugar is so damaging, you might be wondering why sugar cravings are so common. It’s all down to your brain needing a constant supply of energy. So it will tell you it wants something sweet in no uncertain terms if the amount of sugar in your blood dips. Your brain knows it’s a quick way to boost the sugar levels in your blood and provide your cells with some instant energy. But eating a sugary snack or drink will only make the problem worse, sending blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster ride and leading to more sugar cravings.
If you take steps to decrease the amount of sugar you eat, you’ll reduce your levels of inflammatory chemicals, balance your blood sugar and your cravings will diminish
If you suspect chronic inflammation could be at the root of your health issues, I can help you discover whether the food you eat is playing a part. Dietary, supplement and lifestyle measures can be very powerful at combatting inflammation by addressing its root causes, not simply masking your symptoms.
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