Sugar and the immune system
It may, or may not, surprise you to know that eating sugar will temporarily suppress the immune system limiting its ability to respond to challenges. There were studies done in the 1970’s where scientists used samples of subjects’ donated blood before and after eating a large dose of sugar. The blood was then introduced to bacteria. Using a microscope, researchers could see that, after consuming sugar, the white blood cells were somewhat sluggish, or much less aggressive, in consuming the bacteria. A study done by Loma Linda University in 1973 showed that 100 grams of sugar (about the amount found in a one-liter bottle of soda) resulted in the white blood cells being 40% less effective for up to five hours!
This one experiment may over-simplify the complex nature of the immune system, but that does not negate the results indicating that sugar does indeed have a negative effect on the immune response.
When eating sugar, some of the impact is immediate, such as the “sugar-high” followed by the resulting “sugar-crash.” However, some of the impact is more complex and long term, such as developing insulin resistance which leads to type 2 diabetes. Sugar also impacts brain chemistry. When eating sugar, the brain releases dopamine, which is the “feel good” chemical, but after that good feeling fades, one may be left with depressive symptoms.
Excess sugar can impact a person in many ways:
- Psychological stress caused by low blood sugar which results in mood swings, fatigue and mental fog.
- Excess sugar affects the adrenal glands causing too much cortisol, which results in feeling angry, frustrated or frightened and potentially causing a buildup of visceral fat leading to obesity.
- Eating foods that are high in refined sugar and low in essential nutrients impacts the immune system and can increase risk of infections.
- Sugar can trigger inflammation which is a key factor in numerous conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and depression.
- Excess sugar can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Cancer cells love sugar.
- Research suggest children are more sensitive to sugar than adults, and excess sugar in children can lead to ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity, decreased learning performance and increased behavioral issues.
A study done by Dr. Linus Pauling (one of the greatest researchers in the field of microbiology) also discovered that Vitamin C was needed by the white blood cells in order to absorb the bacteria. When there’s too much glucose, the body may substitute the glucose for the vitamin C. Lowered vitamin C affects the body’s ability to produce white blood cells as well as affecting the white blood cells’ ability to engulf bacteria. With a blood sugar level at 120, the white blood cells’ ability to destroy bacteria is reduced by 75%. Low vitamin C can also lead to impaired wound healing, blindness, nerve damage, and amputations for those with type 2 diabetes.
The best thing you can do is limit the amount of sugar in your diet and increase your intake of high quality, natural vitamin C, which is found in many fresh fruits and vegetables. The Mayo Clinic suggests keeping sugar to 5 grams or less per serving. They also suggest watching out more for “added sugars” as opposed to worrying about the amount of natural sugar found in fruit, for example.
Another very important thing you can do is READ LABELS. About 74% of packaged products contain added sugar. It is also a good idea to become familiar with the many names for sugar. Researchers estimate there are over 70 names for sugar, such as glucose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, erythritol, sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and so many more.
And the best suggestion of all… make home-cooked meals. When you make it yourself, you know exactly how much sugar has been added (if any). And if you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or even just a little “down,” why not try working with a Priority Mind Management coach to understand options and get help to work through some of the potential challenges.