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Effects of Excessive Sugar Intake in the Human Body

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  • HeeSung Kim

Sugar Alert: The Friendly Assassinator

“Sweet!” People use the word as a replacement for awesome as much as they love sweet things. Indeed, sweetness is the first taste a newborn baby recognizes, and it is crucial for living; it gives energy and is important as the sole energy source of the brain (Sigelman & Rider 184). While people have heard that sugar can be dangerous, it seems they do not much care about it. In fact, it is not widely known how bad it is or the consequences, yet people can access sugar products very easily. In a cultural context, sweet things are usually used as a reward or a gift; there are even candy holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween. But most of all, America is surrounded by processed and fast foods that contain enormous quantities of sugar. People may claim that they are fine because they do not have a sweet tooth. But the truth is that there are so many hidden sources of sugar that people cannot be free from it. The excessive sugar intake that causes physical, mental, and social problems is underestimated and people should be aware of its hidden danger.

Physical problems from excessive sugar involve a wide range of symptoms from tooth decay or nutritional imbalance to serious diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular related diseases, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, inflammation, suppressing immune system, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, etc (Syed and Davidson; Quillin). In fact, three undesirable things are happening once sugar is inside the body: it is broken down abnormally fast, produces potential harmful substances, and depletes body nutritional resources.

In its natural state, sugar exists as a part of whole organism like sugar cane, and it is digested and nurtures the body in a normal way, like other foods. But refined sugar is nothing but a crystallized chemical of glucose and fructose molecules. Once it loses its components, it cannot follow the normal pathway of digestion and nutrition. Normally, fibers help to regulate digestion speed and let body systems work on their own timing. But once sugar, which has no fibers or other nutritional factors but empty calories, rushes in, the body gets high workloads and becomes tired or begins malfunctioning. For example, the pancreas is tired due to too much secretion of insulin to regulate high blood sugar, and eventually loses its endocrine function, which leads to diabetes.

Also excessive sugar is turned into excessive fat, which causes many problems in the body. The liver converts the excessive fructose into fat after using up the needed amount of carbohydrates from sugar and the excessive fat is stored in liver, body cells, and pushed out into the blood, which causes a fatty or dysfunctional liver, obesity and related diseases, and high blood pressure along with cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke (Cohen; Goldwert). Generally, dietary fat has been believed to be the culprit for causing obesity. In the 1980s, scientists blamed dietary fat in food as the major reason for obesity and cardiovascular disease (Syed & Davidson). So food companies started to eliminate fats from food and to compensate for its cardboard-like taste, they started to put in more sugar, mostly in form of cheap High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which became the food industry’s savior. But for 30 years with less fat, cases of obesity and diabetes have only increased in number. These two graphs show the relationship between a) fat vs. obesity (Willett 557s) and b) sugar vs. diabetes and obesity (Taubes & Couzens 1). The first one shows dietary fat and obesity with little correlation, while the second one shows that obesity and diabetes have strong direct proportional relationship with sugar consumption.

Macintosh HD:Users:hs32:Desktop:correlation.tiffhttp://www.motherjones.com/files/images/sweet_graphic.gif

It is not just because people eat more sugar through processed/fast foods, but also HFCS convolutes the body signal system by never informing brain to stop eating. It suppresses the hormone Leptin, which sends a signal to the brain “full,” so people eat more than they need and it results in prevalent abnormal obesity (Bray). Even more sad news from nephrologist Richard Johnson is, sugar rush depletes body energy and makes it harder for people to move, holding true to the term, couch potato (Cohen).

Regarding cardiovascular disease, high sugared blood hurts the blood vessels and it makes it easy for the dangerous LDL cholesterol to invade and cause plaque that leads to heart attacks or strokes (Lund University). Also, a recent finding from the University of California-Davis reports that LDL cholesterol, the byproduct of excessive fat storage, can be elevated significantly in just two weeks of drinking four sugary beverages in a day, which is a likely average known range for consumption level (Stanhope, et al.).

A rarely known factor of breaking down refined sugar molecules is that sugar steals the body’s calcium, vitamins and minerals, and this leads to osteoporosis and mineral deficiency related disease (Gaby 1). Normally food needs digestion supporters like vitamins and minerals to accomplish its digestion and usually the whole food brings its own supporters, but sugar is already refined and nothing but a chemical, which steals body resources to break itself down. Consequently, insufficient minerals and vitamins hinder the normal body function and cause inflammation and acidify body fluids. Moreover, it leads to immune system inactivity. Depleted vitamin C by sugar intake makes white blood cells sluggish and it results in weak immune control (Poulton). One study found that two tablespoons of sugar makes the immune system slow down 92% for up to five hours (Walker). The following pictures are captured from a video that examines the normal blood cells vs. after eating normal breakfast including banana, soda, Pop-Tarts and yogurt so forth. Normal blood looks clear and active, but 10 minutes after eating, the blood stream becomes gooey, sedentary and makes “Spicules” structure which is a mutation of platelet caused by sugar (“How Sugar”).

Macintosh HD:Users:hs32:Desktop:healthy blood.tiff

Macintosh HD:Users:hs32:Desktop:after sugar.tiff

Also, one study found that sugar deteriorates the pathogen engulfing capability of white blood cells significantly for at least five hours (Sanchez).

Unlike people’s general degree of awareness on the physical downside of sugar, mental problems of sugar are seldom known. Sugar weakens blood sugar levels due to its roller-coaster effect that is caused by high blood sugar compensation by insulin, and it affects the brain directly, which causes emotional imbalance, depression, moods and mental problems because of the stress hormone (McGonigal; Mayo). By disturbing neurological patterns, sugar leads to mental illness or violent behavior. It lowers BDNE, a brain hormone that helps to maintain healthy neurons, memory, and stimulates new nerve growth. Low BDNE levels result in depression, schizophrenia, and brain damage. Often, eliminating sugar is the first step to cure psychological problems (Ilardi). Also sugar can also cause violence due to the drastic fluctuation in blood sugar levels which cause “nervousness and irritability and provoke ‘a full-blown aggressive outburst’” (Holden).

But the trickiest part of the sugar controversy is its addictiveness, and the dependence on sugar is highly related to other kinds of addictions. Some say that after quitting smoking, people look for a replacement habit, to distract and pacify their instinct for smoking, and often turn to sweet things. Why does this happen? In the brain, there are neural receptors for Dopamine, the “pleasure hormone” (Cohen). They react to sugar the same way they react to morphine, heroin, cocaine, and nicotine (Pikul). And Dopamine down-regulates its own receptors that build up tolerance levels, making people want more sugar the next time, leading to sugar addiction (Lustig, “The Sugar-Addiction”). Furthermore, sugar addiction also serves as a “gateway drug” that leads to other addictive substances including alcohol, nicotine, and cocaine (Avena, Rada & Hoebel).

Sugar’s serious physical and mental problems eventually lead to social problems. Today people pursue more and more instant, quick response and easy ways to solve problems. They say, “right now!” As a matter of fact, a chocolate bar can be an instant hunger solver. Seeking short satisfactions and even more sensations the next time, people’s behavior patterns resemble how sugar acts in the body, and this invaded culture and society now seeks more sensual and superficial stimulants.

But there is a more serious problem here. Endocrinologist Robert H. Lustig from the University of California at San Francisco, notes that sugar-related diseases are costing America around $150 billion a year and 75% of US healthcare money is spent on treating those diseases (“Public Health” 28). It makes sense that sugar related diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and white blood disease are considerably placed as America’s leading causes of death (“Leading Causes”).

Despite these life-threatening outcomes of sugar, most people still underestimate its danger because of poor social awareness of the danger of sugar, along with its addictive nature or its slow/indirect consequences. In fact, the danger of sugar is not as widely known as the danger of dietary fat. This is the problem of all problems. It is especially dangerous for poor people living in blind areas of information, and easy access to cheap foods, which mostly contain lots of sugar. And because of its strong addictive nature, people are more likely to choose sugar than fat (Lustig, “The Sugar-Addiction”). People would rather choose sweet stuff right now, than be aware and cautious for their future health. Also its downsides show up slowly or sneakily, it makes it hard to blame sugar directly and people are easily misled. Food companies spend a lot of money on lobbying to keep the facts under wraps (Syed & Davidson). Moreover, they make food packages deceptive ; Sugar can be disguised by more than 50 different names: HFCS, molasses, corn syrup, dextrose…(Pikul) or by word play, like Sugar-free or No-added-sugar beverage does not necessarily mean not sweet at all -- rather it means that it either used artificial sweeteners or already contains enough sugar, like fruit juices. Even something considered to be healthy has a lot of sugar in it such as yogurt, green tea, whole-grain crackers, and energy bars. One Yoplait yogurt has 31g of sugar, which is 8 teaspoons, and a serving of SoBe green tea has 12.5 teaspoons of sugar in it. Also processed food such as pasta sauce has 12g of sugar per half-cup (“Best Pasta”). Yes, it is almost impossible to escape sugar; 77% of packaged foods contain sugar (Lustig, “The Sugar-Addiction”). But people do not know the facts well. Americans’ average sugar consumption is 22 teaspoons per day, while The American Heart Association suggests only 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men (“Sugar 101”). Sugar seems like a pleasure trap that is hidden everywhere and some people willingly seek it, but because of its slow and accumulating effect and its omni-existence, people do not know or ignore the fact that that trap will lead them to many problems.

Can anybody eat 16 sugar cubes at once? Yes, they can-- if they drink a bottle of soda at once. They may be pleased for now, but might face a sweet death as a result of being a sugar lover. People are living with a secret killer, which endangers them physically, mentally and socially because of its lovely first approach and addictive nature. But most of all, people do not know much about what sugar really does. Sugar intake should be carefully watched and we need to take control of it because sugar seems to be far from “wellness,” but close to “illness” (Lustig, “The Sugar-Addiction”). As people have changed the history of fat consumption, now sugar is the next turn. Numerous studies prove that people have been misled and more information about the harm caused by sugar should be more widely known. Awareness and being cautious with overeating sugar will make a change to the food industry, government and society. Rather than being a sheep, f just following what is given without thinking further, we need be a smart and proactive eater to be saved from the friendliest toxin. The more people get educated on this threat, the better chance America has to be free from these serious problems from sugar.

Works Cited

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