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Most people know that eating sugar leads to excess fat storage, but it also weakens the immune system. So, how does sugar lower your immune system?
We all know that having too much sugar is bad for you. But how bad is it? Sure, having too much ice cream, cakes and cookies can cause the pants to feel a little extra snug around the waistline.
Sugar is well known as a nutritional devil by trainers, nutritionists and celebrity health experts. It’s the enemy of cavity-prevention-preaching dentists and moms everywhere. Yet, so many of us feel powerless to just say no to that extra slice of birthday cake or chocolate chip cookie. But, does sugar lower your immune system?
Perhaps we need to look at sugar as something more than something causing us to gain a couple pounds here and there. If the other effects were better known, maybe more of us would be able to avoid it like the plague.
How does Sugar Affect Your Immune System?
Yes, sugar can absolutely wreak havoc on your immune system. And science has known this for decades. How does sugar lower your immune system?
Slacker white blood cells
Take this 1973 study, published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It analyzed several different types of simple sugars and their effects on neutrophilic phagocytosis. Are your eyes glazed over? Do you want to “X” out of this article? You don’t need a degree in biology to understand what this study concluded.
Here’s the breakdown: The study subjects were given a variety of simple sugars (orange juice, honey, glucose, sucrose, fructose). Within a couple hours of consuming sugar, the subjects’ white blood cells (neutrophils) were not eating bad bacteria (cells eating bacteria = phagocytosis, got that?). It’s almost as if the white blood cells themselves had a sugar high and then subsequent crash. Put in simpler terms, they just felt like laying on the couch and not doing their job of protecting us from bad germs.
So, how does sugar lower your immune system? Simple sugars weaken our white blood cells’ ability to fight bacteria.
The interesting thing to note in this study was that starches did not weaken white blood cells’ ability to eat nasty germs. It would be a safe bet to conclude that very slow-burning grains or pseudo-grains like quinoa (which is actually a seed) do not reduce cells eating bad bacteria. Another interesting thing from this study: fasting increased fighting bad bacteria. (This would provide ammunition for advocates of intermittent fasting.)
Cancer cells love sugar
If weakening your body’s white blood cell’s ability to fight bad bacteria doesn’t scare you enough, this should: refined sugars are linked to cancer.
A study in Molecular Systems Biology concluded, “In cancer cells dependent upon glucose for survival, glucose withdrawal activates a positive feedback loop involving reactive oxygen species (ROS)… This loop amplifies ROS to toxic levels, resulting in cell death.”
Again, sorry for the cellular biology lesson. The gist of this study says that cancer cells need glucose (simple sugar) to survive. If you starve cancer cells of glucose, they will die. This is a good thing if you have cancer.
How much sugar is too much?
If you know something is poisonous to your body, why have any of it on a regular basis? You wouldn’t swallow a drop of arsenic would you? Start looking at sugar as a poisonous substance. Then, when the sugar devil tempts you, perhaps you’ll think twice….
Some think that glucose is required for many of the body’s vital functions. But, we can actually make glucose from protein. With significantly-reduced sugar intake, our body burns fat for enery. If the body wants glucose, excess protein can be converted in a process known as gluconogenesis.
We all want our immune system to be the strongest it can be. To do this, you need to completely eliminate all added and processed sugars. What’s a processed sugar? They are hidden, added sugars in processed food. One example is high fructose corn syrup found in many processed foods. (This is just one of many useful web pages with dozens of alternative names for sugar.)
A tiny dollop of honey in your daily tea isn’t likely going to cause your immune system to crash. But, simple sugars like honey can wreak havoc on the body far beyond the common symptoms of diabetes and obesity.
Diabetes…it’s not just for kidney problems anymore
British researchers concluded in Immunology, “Raised glucose can also form what can be described as a sugar coating that can effectively smother and block the mechanisms our bodies use to detect and fight bacterial and fungal infections.” The researchers also concluded “unhealthy glucose levels in patients with diabetes can cause significantly more problems for the body than just the well-known symptoms of the disease such as kidney damage and circulation problems.”
A study in Magnesium Research (yes, that’s a real publication) concluded high fructose consumption (combined with a low magnesium intake) can induce metabolic syndrome by promoting inflammation in the body.
You may say, “Well wait a minute, I’ll just eat a ton of magnesium, and have my sugar, too, thank you.” However, it doesn’t quite work like that. Several studies have proven that sugar causes inflammation with or without magnesium in the diet.
Does it matter if the sugar is from a natural source?
When answering the question, “Does sugar lower your immune system?” you may wonder if the source of sugar matters. The answer is No! Go ahead and squirt half a bottle of pure Grade B Vermont maple syrup down your throat every day for month. Chances are, you’ll feel horrible. Do this during flu season and see if you’re able to avoid getting sick. If you are, then maybe you’re not as susceptible to sugar’s deleterious effects as this post would lead you to believe.
In general, regardless if it’s agave nectar, blue agave, organic brown sugar, molasses, Turbinado sugar … sugar is sugar. These natural sweeteners raise blood glucose levels and cause a rise in insulin. It doesn’t matter if the sugar is organic or all-natural. Consume too much of it, regardless of its name, and your immune system could be compromised.
If you have an insatiable sweet tooth, try this if you have the willpower. Go about 21 days without any added sugars or simple sugars. You’ll be amazed at how your taste buds will reset. Then after 21 days or so, you’ll be shocked at how naturally sweet a handful of blueberries taste! If you’re not willing to quit cold turkey, then try monk fruit extract, or stevia, or erythritol. These natural sweeteners do not raise blood sugar levels.
Does Sugar Lower Your Immune System?
Yes! Tons of information is available to show that sugar does affect your immune system. So, if offered a piece of cake or cookie, remind yourself how toxic it is. Need help eliminating sugar? Check out our post on how to quit sugar for good.