Blood Sugar, Insulin and Aging—The Damaging Effects of Sugar
Besides the formation of the highly destructive AGE’s, sugar, in all forms (fructose, sucrose, glucose, galactose, lactose and others) has other ways of inflicting serious damage to your body and speeding up the aging process.
Fructose is the worst of all sugars, but all forms of sugar that affect your body’s blood sugar levels, as well as the resulting insulin can be harmful. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola:
“Fructose in particular is extremely pro-inflammatory, promoting AGE’s and speeding up the aging process. It also promotes the kind of dangerous growth of fat cells around your vital organs that are the hallmark of diabetes and heart disease. In one study, 16 volunteers on a high-fructose diet produced new fat cells around their heart, liver and other digestive organs in just 10 weeks.”
So the internally and externally, limiting sugar in all forms, will go a long way towards slowing down the aging process.
Sugar, especially fructose and sucrose, increase insulin and leptin levels, while decreasing your body’s ability to effectively counteract that rise in blood sugar. This is a major cause of degenerative diseases.
Sugar also weakens or paralyzes the immune system, making your more susceptible to infectious disease, or complications of minor diseases. For example, that minor cold can become the flu, pneumonia or bronchitis—and in some cases deadly if you are elderly and in frail health.
The average American eating a stereotypical Standard American Diet consumes 2.5 pounds of sugar a WEEK. And when you think about adding in the other processed foods such as white or wheat bread, pasta, pastries, and all the refined carbohydrates, which turn into sugar in the body, it’s no wonder there is such a huge increase in diabetes.
Could it be that sugar is THAT bad? In a word…YES!
Let’s define what we are talking about when we say ‘sugar’. We usually think of sugar as the white stuff that sits in cute little bowls on our tables, or in those cute little colorful packets atrestaurants. The truth is there are many different types of sugars and our bodies do not react to all of them in the same way.
“High fructose corn syrup” is the form of sugar that you see on virtually every label of processed or packaged foods, or in most soft drinks. There are many other forms of sugar but for now, let’s concentrate on the two most often consumed sugars, sucrose and fructose.
Regular white table sugar (and brown sugar) is called ‘sucrose’. Sucrose is composed of one molecule of glucose bonded to a molecule of fructose. So, that makes sucrose about 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Fructose is 2x sweeter than glucose. Since table sugar is half fructose, it is lots sweeter than starches (which are also considered a type of sugar) in potatoes, bread or other carbs that also turn into glucose in the body.
The more fructose in any type of sugar, the sweeter it is.
High fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. So that makes it sweeter than regular table sugar. Since white sugar and high fructose corn syrup are both a combination of glucose and fructose in our guts, our bodies are going to react in basically the same way to both.
The harmful effects of sugar have to do with the way your body metabolizes the fructose portion of the sugar. For instance, if we eat 100 calories of starchy foods like pasta or potatoes (which is converted to glucose in the body) or 100 calories of table sugar (remember basically 50/50% of glucose and fructose), they are metabolized differently and have a different effect in your body.
This is key:
- Fructose is metabolized by our livers.
- Glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized in our cells.
Consuming cane sugar or HFCS causes your liver to work very hard to process the fructose. If that sugar comes in a liquid form like soda or fruit juice, the fructose hits your system instantly and causes your liver to go into overdrive in an attempt to process it. And the fructose in High Fructose Corn Syrup hits your liver even faster than regular cane sugar because the fructose is not bound to the glucose in it. So your liver gets a massive shot of fructose!
When fructose is ingested quickly in larger quantities, the liver immediately converts it to fat. The fat becomes a substance called triglycerides, a key contributor to heart disease. Some of these triglycerides float around in your bloodstream and get stored as fat on your body.
However, excess fat is also stored in the liver. Ever hear of ‘fatty liver disease’? When the liver starts storing excess amounts of fat, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome follow, and not far behind then, is type 2 diabetes.
The result—accelerated aging, chronic disease and ultimately, death—all from excess sugar.
Some other ways fructose accelerates aging and disease:
- Fructose elevates uric acid, which not only leads to high blood pressure, but also chronic, low-level inflammation which can affect virtually every system in yourbody to speed up aging and multiple chronic diseases. Ever heard of gout? This is a painful form of arthritis in which the uric acid forms crystals on joints, mainly in the feet and hands.
- Fructose tricks your body into gaining weight by turning off your body’s appetite- control system. Consuming foods containing fructose actually makes you hungrier, by confusing your hormones. You don’t feel full when you should, so you keep eating.
- Fructose quickly and easily leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity (yes, this is where the dreaded “belly fat” comes from), decreased HDL (good cholesterol), increased LDL (bad cholesterol), elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure, which leads to metabolic syndrome. And of course, it can continue straight to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
In 1980, only about 1 in 7 Americans were obese, and about 6 million people had diabetes—it was not a common disease. Today, 1 in 3 Americans are obese, and 19 million Americans have diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Fact Sheet (2011).
Another seven million people are estimated to have undiagnosed diabetes. That’s 26 million people! Add to that another 79 million people with ‘pre-diabetes’.
That’s staggering!! That combined number is approximately 100 million people with diabetes or pre-diabetes in the United States. That’s one third of the population!
Diabetes leads directly to premature aging (including wrinkly, saggy skin) and more serious complications including:
- Heart disease and strokes
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Nervous system disease (neuropathy)
- Amputations of extremitiesWe know that one of the most accurate predictors of heart disease and diabetes is a condition called ‘metabolic syndrome’. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) at least 75 million Americans have metabolic syndrome, and probably many more have it but have not yet been diagnosed.What is metabolic syndrome? It means your body has become resistant to insulin. Normally when you eat carbs or sugar, blood sugar goes up, insulin is then released to counter the rise in blood sugar, and blood sugar goes back to a normal level.If your diet is high in sugars and starchy foods, your body is continually pumping out insulin to lower your blood sugar. Eventually your cells stop responding to insulin, and your pancreas cannot create enough insulin in response to the demand, and it becomes exhausted. Blood sugar levels begin rise out of control, and stay constantly high, until you end up with type 2 diabetes.Add one more deadly disease that is tied directly to sugar and insulin—Cancer.
According to World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer: Your chances of getting cancer are much higher if you are obese, diabetic or insulin resistant.
What’s the connection? Sugar.
And, your chances of dying from a form of malignant cancer are way higher if your diet is high in sugar. Cancer researchers now know that the problem with insulin resistance and cancer is that as we secrete more insulin, we also secrete a related hormone known as ‘insulin-like growth factor’, and the insulin encourages bigger tumor growth.
Craig Thompson, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, says many human cancers depend on insulin for fuel to grow and multiply. Some cancers develop mutations that actually feed off the insulin, and other cancers just take advantage of the elevated blood sugar and insulin levels from those with metabolic syndrome, obesity or type 2 diabetes.
Many of the pre-cancerous cells would never acquire the mutations that transform them into malignant tumors if they weren’t being driven by insulin to take up more and more blood sugar and metabolize it.
The Trouble With Grains
When you take a look at the food supply of highly civilized societies, the common denominator is an overload of carbohydrates and processed grains—often combined with sugar or fructose (in the form of high fructose corn syrup) to make that starchy stuff even more desirable and addictive. Our bodies quickly begin to crave that junk and the short term high we get from those foods.
Wheat and corn are two of the worst carbohydrates for raising blood sugar and increasing aging.
Cave men didn’t eat grains–at least nowhere close to the form we eat today. And, consumption of grain in civilized countries has been increasing for the last 30-50 years, to the point where grain is the primary food in many people’s diets.
As grain consumption has gone up, so have the numbers of obese and overweight people–in direct relationship to grain consumption.
Today, flours are more refined than ever, missing fiber and essential nutrients. The modernized version of wheat, triticum aestivum, is very different from the wheat used by our ancestors.
Modern wheat has been genetically altered and manipulated to become a far different plant than it previously was.
The gluten proteins in modern wheat are much different than the gluten in the wheat of the past. This is possibly one of the reasons for the sudden increase in the incidence of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
Wheat gluten can be related to a whole range of inflammatory diseases, and even for those who are seemingly not gluten-sensitive, it causes low-level, long-term inflammation.
Many people would never connect these symptoms with eating grains; but weight gain, and emotional, physical, and mental symptoms are fairly frequent with gluten sensitivity–whether you think you have a problem with gluten, or not.
Gluten sensitivity dramatically increases inflammation not only in the digestive system, but in the whole body system as well. Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease also block the absorption of important nutrients, creating deficiencies that lead to frequent illnesses, chronic disease, a weakened immune system, mental problems, and dementia.
Wheat also contains a type of sugar called Amylopectin A that raises blood sugar shockingly high. Eating just two slices of whole wheat bread (the kind we’re told is ‘healthy’) raises blood sugar higher than eating two Tablespoons of pure cane sugar.
High blood sugar leads to insulin release, fat storage, weight gain, production of AGE’s, and inflammation. It’s a vicious circle.
All of this leads to accelerated aging and chronic disease.
Corn may be an even bigger problem. Bumper crops of corn keeps corn prices low which in turn helps to keep many of the items we buy at the store low-priced. Corn, in some form, is in an overwhelming majority of packaged foods that we buy from conventional grocery stores.
Corn has a very high sugar content and it blocks nutrients from being utilized in the body.It can cause a variety health issues, such as dermatitis, diarrhea, and depression.
So, a diet high in processed grains—especially corn and wheat—actually hastens the aging process and causes increased inflammation and susceptibility to disease.
Control Blood Sugar to Slow Aging
Eating a more Paleolithic type diet that is mostly grain-free is a very good way to control blood sugar and the resulting AGE’s as well. This type of diet emphasizes eating real foods, such as naturally raised (grass fed) meat and fish, along with ample amounts of healthy fats, while avoiding grains, processed foods and sugars.
Foods higher in fiber are low glycemic, as well as foods that are primarily fat or protein. When eating a food that has a high sugar or starch content, such as fruit, pair it with a protein and/or a healthy fat to slow down the absorption in the digestive system. This helps to keep blood sugar low as well.
Meats and other proteins such as cheese, eggs, fish and chicken are all low glycemic. Avoid processed meats, though, including lunchmeat and sausages, as these often have surprisingly high amounts of sugar in them.
Healthy fats are low glycemic as well. Extra virgin olive oil, butter, avocados, cheeses, nuts, coconuts and coconut oil are all low glycemic.
Focusing on low glycemic foods instead of processed, packaged foods with added refined starches and sugar goes a long way towards avoiding blood sugar ups and downs and ultimately is the key to a longer life, and slowing the entire aging process.