Sugar: Friend or Foe

Sugar doesn’t really need to be defined, however to be through lets just put this on the table.  The generic name of the substance that is highlighted in this post is carbohydrate better known as sugar. As with many notorious characters sugar goes by several other names to maintain some anonym.  Monosaccharides are often referred to as simple sugars hiding under the following names, the most infamous glucose others include dextrose, fructose, and galactose.  Granulated sugar, table sugar, is a combination of two sugars fructose and glucose commonly referred to as a disaccharide sugar.  Disaccharides include lactose a natural occurring sugar found in diary, maltose is the sugar produced from the germination process of grains and lastly sucrose a natural plant sugar.  As far as the body is concerned a sugar is a sugar, the end result is the same. .

Sugar is not the demon it has made out to be, the true demonetization should be directed at the way sugar is used in a wide variety of products, Too Much Sugarwhich is closer to the true cause of the danger sugar has on the body.  Early on sugar was a great friend to the body.  It gave us the ability to extend life through the tough times of winter when food was more difficult to acquire.  For thousands of years sugar generally did not become available in abundance for our diet until fall.      Sugar if not dealt with in the body is quite toxic.  SugarHence the importance of insulin, its primary duty is to signal the cells that sugar is available.  Cells will readily take up sugar to use immediately or store for use later.  Excess sugar in the blood stream is collected by the liver and converted to glycogen similar to what is done in the cells, the difference being  cellular glycogen is limited to be used only in the cell, while liver glycogen when broken down is free to roam around the body and be used where it is needed to fuel any function in the body.

The beauty of this strategy is that the reverse of the storage process, which the body is actually designed to do, acts as a buffer to breaking down muscle as an energy source in times ofGlycogen famine.  Consider this, the pathway of breaking down muscle as an energy source is the last option the body would choose because muscle is vital for survival, without it the ability to catch prey or gather plants would hinder our capacity to maintain life.  Don’t kill the messenger is a cliché for good reason, how different forms of sugar behave in the body will be in conflict with what we have been led to believe, marketers.  Businesses have marketing departments for good reason, we respond to it if done correctly.

The most common form of sugar that we are most often freely able to decide to use or not is sucrose or table sugar.  Table SugarAs a quick reminder, sucrose is the disaccharide of glucose and fructose.  Glucose follows the traditional path of being absorbed through the cell walls of the intestine directly into the blood stream.  A signal is sent to the pancreas alerting it that glucose has arrived and needs some assistance to get where it needs to go, the liver and cells, to be consumed or stored as glycogen.  Excesses will be converted to fat for later use.  Are you sitting down, I’ll wait.  Fructose on the other hand once into the blood stream bypasses the glycogen pathway altogether and goes directly to fat storage.  fructoseWhat!  Think about it, fruits typically ripen in the fall.  The initial purpose of sugar, in this case fructose, is to get us through the winter by utilizing stored fat?  The mantra of eating more fruit I’m only guessing was to promote a way of getting more vitamins and minerals in our diet.  Not to be naïve, but this could have been a marketing ploy, to generate revenue, conducted by big business; however without direct conformation one cannot conclude this intention.  If minimizing body fat is you primary interest, then having some understanding of how the body deals with fructose is an important piece of information to have when deciding whether or not to consume fruit.  This is not an all or nothing situation, but to understand the full impact of the food being put into your body.  The majority of what we eat will require a compromise; however it is important that what is being compromised be understood.

Galactose is half of the disaccharide sugar lactose, notice the spelling.  Close in sweetness to glucose, but only 30% as sweet as sucrose, table sugar.  By the way, galactose and glucose together form lactose a milk sugar.  LactoseGalactose after being broken down by lactase is converted to glucose to lend itself to the process of glycolysis, the breakdown of glucose.   Individuals that do not produce the enzyme lactase; the catalysis that ignites the breakdown of lactose into its component parts are diagnosed as lactose intolerant.  Within 30 minutes to 2 hours of consuming lactose the effects will begin to show up as nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, gas, and/or bloating.  Normally lactase breaks down the sugars to be absorbed in the small intestine, but if this is not done the lactose passes into the large intestine where they are broken down by microbes whose waste product tends to be in the form of gas Lactose Gasas compared to the chemical reaction of lactase.  While not life threating it’s rather uncomfortable, ask anyone who suffers from this condition.

Maltose strangely enough is the union of two glucose monosaccharide sugars.  The conversion into malt from barley, the most notable grain, is how this sugar got its name.  GrainsThis sugars sweetness when compared to the others is much less.  Maltase is the enzyme necessary for the body to reduce maltose to its primary component glucose.

Not to be overlooked is the term polysaccharides, which as the name would suggest are three different forms of sugar starch glycogen and cellulose.  Any discussion about polysaccharides would quickly become very technical in nature which is beyond to scope of this post.  Needless to say they are broken down into glucose which enters into the expected pathway of utilization.

SugarWhen sugar first came on the scene it was a highly sought after item, before it became the commodity it is today.  Back then only the wealthy had the means to possess sugar.  In the 18th century the production of sugarcane exploded in the Americas.  This was the first time that this prized commodity became affordable to the masses.  It will be roughly two centuries before this seemingly harmless source of energy would have the opportunity show its ugly side.
In the 1700’s four pounds of sugar was consumed on average, which at that time was less than 1 percent of the caloric intake.  In the 1800’s that number had risen to almost five times that amount to just under 20 pounds a year.  Again are you sitting down, I’ll wait.  In the 1900’s an increase of 15 times the amount of sugar that was consumed in the 1700’s was a part of the average diet, that suggest sugar now represents almost 15-20 percent of the caloric intake of the average person.  What side of average do you find yourself? The video below is from BuzzFeed, click the link to see more from BuzzFeed. This rapid rise of sugar as a part of our diet in just over a 200 year time frame has not allow our bodies enough time to adjust to the availability of this one time scarce lifesaving source of energy and now the opposite affect is happening.  Literally, sugar is killing us in a multitude of ways that unless you look you would not make the connection.  Hence the primary purpose of this blog.  How can you defend yourself if you don’t know how you are being attacked?
The impact sugar has on our health is mind blowing.  The obvious one is obesity and the numerous consequences associated are difficult to rationalize away.  Of those are disorders of metabolism, primarily Type 2 Diabetes.  As of February 2017 it is estimated in the United States that MORE than one in every 10 adults over the age of 20 has diabetes.  Notice that is not one in ten, that equates to roughly 29.1 million people, but what is even more frightening is that 8.1 million people are undiagnosed and therefore unaware of the dangers the disease expressing in their bodies.  Every year 1.4 million Americans are given the news that they are Type 2 diabetics.  I recall when it happened to me.

There is no direct correlation to the impact on the cardiovascular system a normal intake of sugar has on the heart.  However, a 2016 publication of reviews sugarsuggest that a correlation does exist with higher levels of sugar consumption by way of metabolic diseases.

The World Health Organization in 2003 reported that sugar is the most important dietary factor in the development of tooth decay.

The most unnerving connection with sugar has come recently with claims being made of the contribution sugar has with Alzheimer’s, specifically fructose.  The term Type 3 diabetes is starting to be used in association with Alzheimer disease.  Earlier this year a newly released study made the connection publically known.  It has been known for some time that one of the impacts of diabetes is the abnormal amount of proteins that aggregate to form plaque and tangles in the brain known to be a characteristic related to thAlzheimere development of Alzheimer.  The study found an enzyme called MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor) is damaged by a process called glycation.  Glycation is defined as the process of bonding a sugar molecule, such as glucose or fructose, to a protein or lipid molecule in the absence of the controlling enzyme.  The process of glycation is ten times greater with fructose than it is with glucose.  Some of the end products of this activity are implicated to be involved in many age-related chronic diseases.  It is believed that the absence of MIF maybe a supporting factor in the progression of the disease, Alzheimer’s.  Researchers noted that as the progression of the disease continues the enzymes produced by glycation increases.  MIF is a typical response of the immune system to the buildup of these proteins in the brain.

Another study published earlier this year looked at a connection between sugar and autism.   All participants of the study in the high-glycemic group demonstrated autism-like behaviors.  As new mice were introduced into the chambers, the mice on the high-glycemic diets avoided contact with them.  It should be noted that mice are highly social animals.  The same mice also displayed for no apparent reason repeated actions along with excessive grooming, even though mice are known to perform self-cleaning activity two to three times a day.  AutismHigh levels of sugar in the diet of these mice had lower levels of the protein, doublecortin, known to be involved with the generation of new neurons.  Markers for high inflammation where documented.  Recent studies are indicating that inflammation during pregnancy increases the risk of autism, no specific level was revealed at this time.  However, chronic inflammation that is generally associated with the consumption of high levels of sugar during pregnancy increases the risk of autism.  A great deal of research still needs to be conducted; however this is the current direction of focus for research.

There is still much to be said about sugar.  When used as intented sugar helped us to get where are today.  Unfortunately the ease with which we now have access to sugar has become a real danger to how we will advance into the future.  Sugar AddictionThe demonization of sugar is truly not deserved on its own merits, the issue lies within our biological programing to consume as much sugar as possible when it’s available.  It truly is a survival mechanism that has proven to be extremely valuable for millions of years.  This survival strategy will not to be reversed anytime soon.  With that said, don’t beat yourself too much for one bad day, just remember it’s only one day, you will do better tomorrow; I promise.