When it comes to sugar in your diet, many of us feel we know all the facts – even if we eat more sugar than we know we ‘should’. We’ve all heard that excess amounts of sugar in our diets can lead to cavities, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. However, there are other potentially serious adverse effects of sugar on your body and health that are less well known.
A new study found that eating too much sugar may increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Premenopausal women who drank a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages and postmenopausal women who ate a lot of sweets had higher breast density, one of the strongest indicators for breast cancer risk (only increased age and BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations increase risk more). Specifically, women who had more than three servings of sugar-sweetened beverages in a week had a 3% difference in breast density compared to those who avoided sugary beverages.
Another recent study looked at the harm that a high sugar diet has on the liver. It looked at the relationship between fructose consumption and fat accumulation in the liver. Experts estimate that 20 to 33 percent of American adults have a common condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It’s associated with obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The study found that blocking a molecule called GLUT8 stops fructose from entering liver cells and protects against NAFLD.
Fructose is a type of sugar found in many commonly consumed foods such as fruit, soft drinks, and many processed foods and beverages in the form of high fructose corn syrup. It’s processed in the liver and stored there as fat in the form of triglycerides. Since we can’t yet block GLUT8, limiting fructose consumption is an easy step that we can take to protect ourselves from NAFLD—as well as a host of other health problems such as metabolic disease, high triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
Not all sugar is the same. The sugar you find naturally in fruit and milk is substantially less harmful than “added sugars”. Avoiding products that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup is a recommendation often made by healthcare professionals, and is a relatively easy way to start to cut down on extra sugar.
We spoke with Sacramento weight loss surgeon, Dr. Laura Machado, about the research. She said “there is increasing evidence of the negative impact that sugar has on our body directly. These highly processed sugars are addictive and also toxic on some levels. You only have to consume them and notice how you feel afterward–you want more, even though you feel sluggish and bloated.”
Dr. Machado explained that this addictive cycle can be broken, but it can be difficult. “Many patients note the effects of a high sugar diet and the “hangover” effect that they experience. Once individuals clean up their diets, whether with bariatric surgery or self directed, they notice they start truly feeling better. The process is difficult, like any other withdrawal. When accomplished, however, patients are rewarded with more energy, improved alertness, clearer thinking, and better sleep. We are accumulating the science behind the subjective improvements that our patients experience as noted in these recent studies. Sugar really can be thought of as a drug of addiction with both immediate and long-term risks.”