Healthy Living


Emmanuel Njoku

Sugar is unarguably one item that’s bound to be found on every table in every home, in every city or location on Earth. It’s one sweet likable flavor that makes everything sweet, and just like the proverbial Midas touch, turns everything it touches or comes in contact with into the affirmed “gold of sweetness”. It’s unavoidable, literally and figuratively speaking, occurring almost in everything we eat, ranging from cereals, desserts, candies, bread, and even things that don’t have a sweet taste, to vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods. It is essential to our survival and a vital source of energy to the body, occurring as a carbohydrate, which is one component that occurs naturally in many foods. How then is sugar essential to the body? One might be tempted to ask.

Earlier on I posited that carbohydrate is one component that exists naturally in virtually every type of food known to man, now when food is ingested into the body, the body breaks down all carbohydrates inside the food into sugar which varies in the structure of their molecules namely:

  • Monosaccharides: which are the simplest form of sugar, consisting of only one sugar molecule. Example: Glucose.
  • Disaccharides: sugars of two sugar molecules. Example: Sucrose.
  • Polysaccharides: comprising 3 sugar molecules. Example: Starch.

The end product of this breakdown of carbohydrates is usually glucose which is the simplest form of sugar, and which enters into the bloodstream whereupon it is acted upon by the body and used to supply energy to cells around the body. This carbohydrate(sugar) is also known to provide fiber and other nutrients to the body and has also been shown to reduce the risks of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, all of which can be gotten from other supplementary sources of carbohydrates which includes varieties of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

The body needs sugar, true, but there’s always a thin line between passion and obsession, with the latter leading to people consuming entirely too much sugar; but unlike sugar naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, the bulk of the sugar we consume is in our diets in the form of added sugar, which is usually added to food by manufacturers, most times to act as preservatives, or to extend shelf life. Sugar, therefore, has a bittersweet reputation when it comes to health; It’s needed by the body for energy and various metabolic processes but also, in the case of overuse, can contribute to various diseases and problems. Below are some of the problems that excess consumption of sugar can cause:

When we advance in age, our skin weakens and develops wrinkles as a result of being worn out, and/or depletion in the level of nutrients present in our skins from childbirth that contributes to the skin appearing supple and tender, and this happens irrespective of one’s state of health. Excess sugar in dietary foods reacts with proteins in the bloodstream forming compounds known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs damage collagen and elastin in the skin which are proteins responsible for the skin’s youthful appearance and ability to stretch, causing it to lose its elasticity and firmness thus resulting in accelerated wrinkling and aging.

The Glycemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It is grouped into 2 namely low glycemic index (GI) and high glycemic index (GI) depending on how each affects glucose levels in the bloodstream. Low GI foods are broken down more slowly and cause a decrease in blood sugar levels over time, while on the contrary, High GI foods do the exact opposite. Foods with a high glycemic index such as sugary drinks and foods, white rice, potatoes, etc, increase blood sugar levels which cause an increase in androgen secretion, oil production, and inflammation, all of which are attributed to acne development. Interestingly, a study in 2,300 teens demonstrated that those who

frequently consumed added sugar had a 30% greater risk of developing acne. Additionally, a 2018 study of university students in China showed that those who drank sweetened drinks 7 times per week or more were more likely to develop

moderate or severe acne. These findings coincide with the theory that diets high in processed, sugar-laden foods contribute to the development of acne.

Bacteria as organisms are known to be ubiquitous. Ubiquitous is the sense that they can exist almost everywhere and anywhere, and the body is no exception. They can be found everywhere in the body from the guts, intestines, and skin to the mouth. Thus when sugary foods are ingested into the body via the mouth, the naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth convert the sugar therein into an acidic substance that attacks the surrounding environment and in this case, the enamel (the hard part of the teeth), causing them to be weakened and more prone to developing cavities.

Leptin is a hormone produced from fat cells that aids in regulating body weight by inhibiting hunger. It does this by sending messages to the brain via the bloodstream as to whether the body has been filled up with food, or whether the body needs food, in other words, whether one is hungry or not. However, a condition called leptin resistance can occur, in which case the brain stops acknowledging the body’s signal and thinks the body is starving. This results in the brain changing its behavior and thus encourages eating more while decreasing the rate at which calories are burned, and guess what has been shown to encourage resistance towards the brain hormone leptin? Yes, you guessed that right – Sugar. This ultimately results in excessive weight gain or obesity.

  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)

As earlier stated above, excessive sugar intake results in leptin resistance, which invariably leads to obesity. When one is obese, the heart works at a much higher rate to pump blood through the body, with all this extra work hurting the blood arteries, which as a direct consequence, thickens and restricts blood flow, thereby causing blood pressure to rise. Also, based on a recent study, consuming sugary substances and developing hypertension has shown to be mutually inclusive i.e it is impractically impossible for one to exist without the presence of the other. To further break this down as relates to sugar and hypertension, high levels of sugar (glucose) have the potential of damaging blood vessels linings, making it easier for a form of fats known as lipids, for example, cholesterol, to stick to the walls of these blood vessels. When this happens, the walls of the blood vessels harden, and when the blood vessels harden, blood pressure rises, thus they are mutually inclusive.

Many U.S. adults consume more added sugar (added in processing or preparing of foods, not naturally occurring as in fruits and fruit juices) than expert panels recommend for a healthy diet, and consumption of added sugar was associated with increased risk for death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) according to a study published by JAMA

Internal Medicine in a JAMA Network publication sugar consumption and death from cardiovascular disease. The study opines that people who got 17–21% of

their daily calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from

cardiovascular disease (CVD) than those who consumed 8% added sugars. What this means is that the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease, as a high intake of sugar can result in raised blood pressure levels, obesity, etc, all of which can cause an increased affinity for heart attacks and heart-related diseases.

Every little organ in the body has a specific function, some regulate body temperature, some aid in digestion, and some afford locomotion of substances from one point to another. Of note is the pancreas which produces insulin – one might be tempted to ask the relationship between the pancreas, insulin, and the menace called Diabetes. The pancreas is the organ of the body which produces the hormone called insulin, a hormone required to move sugar out from the bloodstream into the body’s cells where it’s used for energy generation. If the pancreas stops producing insulin, or the body cells become resistant to the insulin produced, a situation is known as insulin resistance, (which is caused by excessive intake of sugary foods, leading to obesity, thereby reducing insulin sensitivity in the body), results in the presence of abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood, which leads to the body not being able to effectively regulate blood sugar levels, a condition otherwise known as Type 2 Diabetes.

This is perhaps the most controversial and untold effect of sugar overuse on the body mainly in the form of diabetes and hypertension. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels (diabetes) result in damages to the autonomic nerves (a component of the peripheral nervous system which regulates involuntary physiological processes like sexual arousal) inhibiting blood flow, and on the other hand, excess pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries as blood flows through them (hypertension) can cause damages to those arteries including those which supply blood to the penis, meaning reduced blood flow into the penis, the outcomes of these being erectile dysfunction and/or premature ejaculation.

Sugar is good for the body, no doubt, even added sugar can go a long way to add that spice to what we eat, however, the problem arises when we consume more than is required or become addicted to our consumption of these added sugars over time. As authoritatively stated in this piece, the effects of such actions can make life transition from a sweet paradise to a living hell.

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