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Effects of sugar on the body and strategies for reducing sugar intake

"Consuming high-sugar diets contributes to leptin resistance, which increases the desire to take highly palatable foods." - John K.

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High sugar intake contributes to various short-term effects such as tiredness, obesity, and fatigue, with an increased rate of mood disorder and depression. Excess sugar consumption results in long-term health problems like fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, and damage to microvascular and macrovascular blood vessels, which can lead to stroke, heart attack, and problems with the nerves, gums, eyes, feet, and kidney.

Although the body metabolizes both natural and added sugar the same way, consuming natural sugar such as in fruits is associated with less negative health effects since they are packed with a fair amount of sugar and contain other healthful nutrients.

The recommended daily intake of added sugar, according to the American Heart Association, should not exceed 100 calories (24 grams) for adult women and about 150 calories (36 grams) for men.


Here are the effects and symptoms of consuming too much sugar on your body and how to take it in moderation.

Increase the risks of heart diseases

High-sugar diets are associated with inflammation and obesity, as well as increased blood sugar, triglyceride, and high blood pressure levels. High sugar intake, especially from sweetened drinks, increases the risk of chronic inflammation in the body, which results in excess stress on the blood vessels and the heart, increasing the risks of premature strokes and heart failure. Diets with high sugar content, such as beverages, are associated with atherosclerosis, a disease that is characterized by transient ischemic attacks and artery-clogging plaque that can damage your heart and blood vessels.

High sugar consumption facilitates the accumulation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your body, which develops fatty deposits in your blood vessels and alters the blood flow through your arteries. Atherosclerosis can cause complications like stroke due to a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood to your brain, chest pain, and a heart attack.

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It may contribute to the skin aging process and acne

Intake of highly refined carbs promotes the production of advanced glycation end (AGEs) products, which are compounds formed when proteins in your body react with the sugar. AGEs damage elastin and collagen - proteins that help your skin stretch and maintain its youthful appearance. Damage to the elastin and collagen leads to reduced skin firmness and promotes skin sagging, wrinkles, and fine lines on your skin.

A high-sugar diet also leads to the formation of acne, as they have a high glycemic index, which causes a spike in insulin and blood sugar levels, leading to increased inflammation, oil production, and androgen secretion, all of which result in acne development. Low-glycemic foods such as fruits, vegetables, raw carrots, kidney beans, and lentils are linked to reduced acne, while high-glycemic foods like sugary beverages, sugary products, and milk are linked to acne.


Increases the risk of depression

While a well-rounded diet helps to boost your moods, processed foods and diets high in sugar affect your emotions and moods. High sugar intake is associated with memory problems, cognitive impairment, and emotional disorders related to depression and anxiety. Increased sugar intake promotes insulin resistance, causes chronic inflammation, and disrupts the dopaminergic reward system (mesolimbic system), all of which facilitate sugar’s detrimental effect on your mental health.

High sugar intake interferes with the body's internal functions, such as the absorption of vital nutrients such as vitamins B6 and 12, folic acid, and vitamin D, which are vital nutrients that protect against psychiatric and neurologic disorders and promote brain health. As a result, the lack of these essential nutrients may cause the development of depression and anxiety.

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Diets containing high sugar content facilitate the rise in cortisol levels, which affect the brain's regulation of mood. The fluctuation of blood sugar due to high amounts of sugar intake, known as glycemia variability, stimulates emotional disturbances such as anxiety, irritability, increased stress, and fatigue. You can consume sugar from foods such as grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Sugar is also heavily loaded in processed foods such as candy, chocolates, soda, and cakes. The intake of too much-processed sugar in your diet can result in mood disorders and various chronic diseases, such as diabetes. On the other hand, natural sugar from foods such as vegetables, fruits, fish, and other sources can significantly reduce the risk of depression.


Causes weight gain (obesity)

Intake of foods with added sugar, such as those found in sugary cereals, candy, and sweetened beverages, contributes to raising your blood sugar level, which can dramatically lead to chronically elevated blood sugar levels - hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia contributes to weight gain by encouraging insulin resistance in your body. Insulin resistance leads to elevated insulin and sugar levels, which affect the cells functioning and facilitate inflammation that may further lead to increased insulin, causing a destructive cycle in the body. The increase in blood sugar causes selective insulin resistance, the process by which hormones store fat due to blood sugar uptake.

READ ALSO: Your Body on Sweets: The Alarming Impact of Added Sugars

Intake of excess sugar causes insulin resistance and high blood sugar, which are linked with increased body fat, especially in the belly area. Insulin resistance and high blood sugar also affect leptin, a hormone that regulates energy, including fat storage and calorie intake and burning. Leptin plays a vital role in reducing food intake and reducing hunger. Consuming high-sugar diets contributes to leptin resistance, which increases the desire to take highly palatable foods, causing overeating and resulting in excess body fat and weight gain. Beverages and high-sugar diets contain little fiber, protein, and other vital nutrients that are vital for keeping you satisfied and feeling full, therefore promoting weight gain.


It leads to a fatty liver

High sugar intake has consistently been associated with risks of fatty liver. Beverages such as sweetened soda, candy, baked products, and cereals contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Unlike other types of sugar, fructose is broken down in the liver and stored as glycogen or converted to energy. The intake of excess fructose in the diet may lead to fructose overload in your liver, causing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) - a condition linked with excessive fat buildup in the liver.

The fat accumulation on the liver also causes non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is characterized by inflammation, a fatty liver, and "steatosis". Scarring of the liver can eventually interrupt blood flow to the liver, which results in cirrhosis development. The liver is a vital organ that has more than 500 crucial functions in your body. Consuming foods rich in fiber and antioxidants, such as vegetables, beans, nuts, fruits, and whole grains, and choosing sugar-free drinks like water, tea, and coffee, which contain antioxidants, support a healthy liver, and keep you hydrated.


Other health risks due to excess sugar intake

Promote cognitive decline: High sugar intake results in impaired memory, which is associated with increased risks of dementia, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Increased risk of developing gout: Gout is an inflammatory disease that affects the joints in your body and is characterized by pain. Added sugar intake increases the level of uric acid in the blood, which promotes the risk of worsening or developing gout.

Negative impact on dental health: Too much sugar intake can cause cavities. The streptococcus mutans, a bacterium in the mouth, feed on the sugar and release lactic acid as a byproduct, which results in tooth demineralization.


How to minimize your sugar intake

  • Replace sodas, juices, energy drinks, and sweetened tea with unsweetened seltzer or water

  • Opt for black coffee and tea or take a natural alternative for optimal health

  • Focus on fresh, whole ingredients when you shop

  • Avoid the consumption of alcoholic beverages that contain added sugar

  • Use natural butter instead of sweet spreads such as Nutella

  • Take cereals, granola bars, and granola, which have less than 4 grams of sugar per serving

  • Consider taking whole foods and fruits in place of sugar-sweetened fruit smoothies

In moderation, sugar intake is part of a healthy diet that facilitates productivity. It is the primary source of energy where the body converts glucose to energy. Consuming too much sugar has various negative health effects on your body. High sugar intake from foods and beverages contributes to an increased risk of heart disease, blood sugar problems, obesity, hypertension, and depression among other harmful conditions.


Cutting back on sugar has incredible health benefits such as improved oral health, weight management, lower blood sugar, reduced acne, and improved skin health. Whether it’s a natural sugar or one that's been added, excess intake of sugar contributes to various negative effects on your body.

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