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Effects of sugar consumption on the human body

Nobody can resist the siren song of a sugary treat every now and again. As we all know, however, too much sugar is hugely harmful. It doesn’t just rot our teeth and rack up unwelcome dentist bills. Sugar is also linked to wrinkled skin, heart and liver disease, and – of course – diabetes.

Jun 6, 2019 |
5 min read

If you ever find yourself craving sugar, you’re not alone. Science has proved that sugar is an addictive substance, which is hardly surprising. If you’re honest with yourself, have you ever really been satisfied with just one jelly donut, can of soda or piece of chocolate? (1)

It’s only our better judgment that prevents us from gorging on sugar at the expense of everything else.

So, it’s not a secret that too much sugar is bad for us. What may surprise you, however, is the exact impact that consuming sugar has on the human body. Let’s take a deep dive into the string of chemical reactions that occur after you tuck into a sugar snack.

The initial impact of sugar

It’s a beloved habit of favorite aunts and uncles to fill children up with sugar, then return them their parents. Kids, in particular, become little whirling dervishes of energy when they consume sugar. The truth is; however, the same thing happens to all of us. A ‘sugar rush’ is a universal experience.

A sugar high is the first impact of consuming sweet foodstuffs. Sugar releases dopamine to our brains, which is why it tastes so darn good and is so addictive. It’s not just our brains that are impacted, though. Sugar also sparks a series of chemical reactions in our body.

The most prominent element of sugar is glucose. Glucose is what gives our body energy, which is why we’re prone to becoming a little hyperactive after overindulging. That is the root of the so-called sugar high – it’s akin to applying jump leads to your body and brain, and giving it a massive burst of dynamism.

Now, the issue with this is the human digestive tract is incapable of processing glucose. It just sits in the blood, being pumped around your body. On the one hand, this sounds great – you’ll be full of energy, and will get plenty of work done.

In reality, however, glucose levels that are not kept under control are hugely detrimental.

Some of the impacts of excessive glucose in the body include:

  • Dehydration
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Heart disease
  • Loss of feeling in the feet and legs
  • Skin lesions and issues
  • Nerve disorders
  • Loss of consciousness

This isn’t good at all. Luckily, when our blood sugar levels are too high, the body realizes this. As a result, the pancreas leaps into action and releases insulin. Insulin soaks up the glucose, and stores it as fat. The body intends to burn that fat for energy later. This is where the health concerns of sugar really start.

The cost of a sugar high

In the short-term, insulin returns your blood sugar levels to a safe equilibrium. This process is draining for the human body, though. That’s why a sugar high is invariably followed by a sugar crash, and you’ll be left hankering for a nap.

Also, however, the aforementioned fat storage can become stockpiled. If you’re consuming sugar to excess and generating more fat than you’re burning for energy, you’ll gain weight.

Meanwhile, your liver has reacted to the sugar intake too. Whenever we eat sugar, the liver processes it. This is a metabolic process known as lipogenesis, in which the liver creates fatty deposits from the sugar you ate.

Once these become excessive, the body becomes susceptible to a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (2)

Finally, once the insulin has done its job, the body starts to panic instinctively. It’s missing the artificial stimulus of sugar and assumes that something is wrong. This increases blood pressure, placing the heart at risk of overwork. This, naturally, creates a heightened risk of cardiac arrest or stroke.

The good news is, sugar in moderation is comparatively safe. If you can keep your sugar intake to 30g or less per day, you should be absolutely fine. Your body can easily handle this without undue pressure. Any more, however, and you’re asking a great deal of your internal organs.

Artificial sweeteners are not much better!

If you’re feeling smug right now, as you use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, don’t be too pleased with yourself. The truth is, the impact of these products is identical from a neurological standpoint, if not physical. (3)

Your brain cannot tell the difference between sugar and artificial sweetener, so it will still release dopamine. However, this will spark and encourage further sugar cravings. This means that you’re more likely to eat sugary foods or sip on sweet drinks afterward, not less.

If you’re looking to break your sugar addiction, artificial sweeteners will not help. Likewise, they have a minimal impact on weight loss and management. The truth is, you’re probably better off with small and controlled dosages of sugar. (4)

How about our teeth?

Contrary to what you have been told since you were a child, sugar doesn’t technically rot our teeth. This is because bacteria that live in the mouth cause tooth decay, and sugar rarely lasts long enough to feed that bacteria.

Just going about your day will typically generate enough saliva to wash away any remnants of sugar. If your sugar is consumed alongside a more balanced meal, such as dessert after a comparatively healthy dinner, your teeth are even less likely to suffer.

Bacteria need sustenance to thrive, and sugar will not provide this. It’s more likely to obtain it from carbohydrates, such as potato chips or bread. These foods cling to the teeth long after you’ve eaten, and provide the bacteria with all-they-can-eat buffet.

Failing to brush and allowing remnants of solid food to remain in your mouth is more likely to result in a trip to the dentist.

Speaking of, why has your dentist been telling you to lay off the sugar for the sake of your pearly whites? In truth, it’s because most sugary treats, especially fizzy soda, are also packed with acid.

This is what causes tooth issues, attacking and dissolving the enamel. These acids are also found in many sugar-free products, too. Don’t assume that sugar-free means tooth-friendly. (5)

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you can gorge on an entire bucket of Halloween candy this October. As we have discussed, sugar still wreaks havoc on the human body when consumed to excess. Be safe, and moderate your intake to 30g a day. This way, you can enjoy treats without jeopardizing your health.

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