Tis’ the season to gorge on
sweets. As the holidays approach, at
every turn you’ll likely be encountered by candy canes, pastries, holiday party
treats and sugary gift baskets. While it’s tempting to indulge and justify it
with the promise of a health-focused New Year, understanding how a season of
sugar impacts your health may change how you think about your favorite sugar
The American sugar overload.
Our bodies need sugar for the
energy it takes to get through the day, but we only need a fraction of what the
average American is consuming (up to 22 teaspoons a day). Under normal
circumstances, when sugar is detected in the bloodstream the pancreas releases
insulin which helps to deliver the sugar (glucose) to the muscles, liver, and
fat cells in the body so it can be used for energy. If there are sufficient energy stores, the
body signals the liver to take in the excess glucose where it is converted to
With so much sugar in the American
diet, the pancreas is forced to crank up its production of insulin. Over time the
pancreas can actually burn out and become unable to produce enough insulin. The
result is a high level of un-metabolized sugar in the bloodstream, which leads
to the dangerous condition known as Diabetes. An alternative outcome is that
the pancreas keeps producing insulin, but the constant presence of the hormone
in the bloodstream over time blunts the insulin receptors of the cells, and its
function of delivering glucose into the cells is compromised. In either case
the result is an excess of sugar in the bloodstream and a form of Diabetes can
The inflammation effect.
Too much sugar in the diet
not only causes imbalances in the bloodstream and the relationship between
glucose and insulin, but it can contribute to chronic inflammation throughout
the body. When inflammation exists on the cellular level, cells and systems can’t
operate optimally, and a plethora of health problems result. Everything from
digestive issues and metabolic slowdown to joint pain and emotional ups and
downs can be linked to sugar consumption and chronic inflammation.
Compromising your immune system.
One of the biggest side
effects of eating too much sugar is lowered immune response. Because B Vitamins
are required for metabolizing sugar, a diet filled with sugar burns up our
natural stores of these vitamins. When they’re depleted, they can’t perform
their other functions, one of which is to support cellular respiration and
immune health. With the decreased support, the immune system is compromised.
While the flu virus is present all year round, “flu season”, the annual spike
in diagnosed flu cases, starts right after Halloween. It may not be a
coincidence that many Americans get sick right after beginning a period of high
sugar intake that lasts straight through the New Year.
Compromised digestive health.
From an Eastern medicine
perspective, good digestion is the foundation of good health. The spleen, which
primarily governs digestive health, is most affected by sugar. In a high-sugar
environment, the spleen becomes overtaxed and eventually functions at a
deficiency. When spleen function is disrupted, digestive problems such as diarrhea
or Irritable Bowel Syndrome can arise. Other spleen deficiency symptoms are
weight gain, obesity, diabetes, cravings for sweets, fatigue, muscle aches and
foggy thinking. A combination of
nutritional changes, acupuncture and herbal remedies can work to restore the
spleen to harmony.
Sugar hits the red carpet.
Next year a documentary by Damon
Gameua will be released. Gameua is a film director who ate a “healthy” amount
of sugar in his everyday diet for 60 days. That is, he added foods into his
diet that were processed, but generally considered to be okay for
health-conscious people. He also completely eliminated foods that were
obviously high in sugar like soda and ice cream. The added sugar in the
“healthy” foods alone left him with early stages of liver disease, mood swings,
and more health problems. Read about it at http://ind.pn/1qHaqFB.
Curbing the cravings.
While the situation created
by sugar overload may seem extreme, it’s unfortunately commonplace in American
culture. Sugar is added to foods you might not expect, like “healthy” breakfast
cereals, salad dressings, fruit juices and even flavored coffees (think Dunkin
Donuts Oreo cookie flavored coffee!) Even common foods that have healthier reputations,
like breads, pasta and rice, break down to sugar in the bloodstream very
rapidly. Whole wheat products have added sugars in them. Without the sugar,
your bowl of whole wheat pasta or slice of whole wheat bread would likely taste
Sugar has effects on the brain that are similar to cocaine,
making it very hard to quit. But the emotional and metabolic ups and downs that
come with over-consuming sugar can be exchanged for an overall healthier and
more energetic lifestyle. By gradually decreasing your sugar intake, you can
“wean” yourself off of it and eliminate cravings. When you consume sugar at low
levels, through foods like whole fruits and vegetables, and increase your
intake of satiating healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, coconut, and natural
animal fats, you’ll crave it less, eventually your blood sugar will regulate
itself more effectively, and your general well-being will improve.