From our outwardly physique to the condition of our heart and brain, the excessive intake of sugar leaves behind devastating effects.
Most of us are guilty of overindulging in too much sweets, be they sugary drinks or pastries. Known as "free sugars," this kind of collective sugar we take in every day are added to drinks and food, and are naturally found in syrups, honey and fruit juices without any artificial sweeteners.
The problem is that food and drinks with additional sugars are high in calories. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sugar is responsible for 13 percent of calories in the standard American diet. For Europeans, sugar accounts for 16 to 17 percent of calories. These numbers are greater than the recommended caloric intake for sugar, which should only be at 5 percent.
"Many Americans eat about five times the amount of sugar they should consume," said Natasa Janicic-Kahric of Georgetown University Hospital.
Too much sugar not only causes a person to gain weight but, as several studies have shown, also negatively affects different parts of the body.
1. Excessive Sugar Triggers Growth Of Breast Cancer Tumors
A new study conducted in Texas have revealed that too much sugar in a typical Western diet may elevate a person's risk for breast cancer, and the chances of the cancer tumor metastasizing to the lungs.
The report, which will soon be featured in the journal Cancer Research, focused on the effects of sugar on 12-lipoxygenase (12-LOX), an enzyme catalyst during chemical reactions.
By examining lab mice, the team from University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that sugar intake comparable to sugar levels in Western diets can lead to tumor growth and metastasis.
Assistant Professor Peiying Yang of Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine said this happened because of the increased expression of 12-LOX and a fatty acid known as 12-HETE.
Professor Lorenzo Cohen said fructose in corn syrup and table sugar was specifically responsible for fueling the growth of tumors and lung metastasis, as well as the production of 12-HETE in breast tumors. However, he said the link needs to be studied further.
"How dietary sucrose and fructose induces 12-HETE and whether it has a direct or indirect effect remains in question," said Cohen.
Past studies have shown that the intake of dietary sugar influences the development of breast cancer. With that, Yang also said the effect of sugar on inflammation has yet to be investigated.
2. Excessive Sugar Negatively Affects Brain's Reward System and Cognition
Scientists said sugar "hijacks" our brain's reward system.
When you eat foods with sugar, the tongue's taste receptors are activated. Neurons in the brain light up the reward pathway, causing the release of feel-good hormones such as dopamine. This is the reason chocolate supposedly makes you feel better after a bad day.
However, too much stimulation of the brain's reward system can cause many problems.
"Over-activating this reward system kickstarts a series of unfortunate events -- loss of control, craving, and increased tolerance to sugar," said Nicole Avena, a neuroscientist who spoke at a Ted-Ed video. In turn, people who eat too much sugar experience harmful episodes of intense sugar craving.
Aside from that, a previous University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study found that too much sugar slows down the cognitive function of the brain, and hinders our memory and learning abilities.
In lab mice, too much amounts of fructose resulted in the damage of brain synaptic activity. The animals also developed resistance to insulin, a vital hormone that regulates blood glucose levels and the function of neurons. Insulin strengthens the connections between brain cells, helping the neurons communicate better and form stronger memories. Therefore, low levels of insulin can impair our cognition.
"Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new," said Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, the lead author of the study.
3. Excessive Sugar Negatively Affects Mental Health
Eating a donut or a sugary drink may seem harmless at first, but its effects are sudden and may cause you to experience a sugar crash.
During a sugar crash, your blood sugar levels peak and then plummet, like the extremely fast movements of a roller-coaster. Because of that, you may find yourself feeling depressed, moody, irritable, or anxious.
Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a functional medicine expert, said too much sugar stimulates the surge of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts our mood. Over-activating serotonin pathways can exhaust supplies of the neurotransmitter, and can thus influence symptoms for depression.
Excessive amounts of sugar have also been associated to neuroinflammation, which may be one possible cause of depression
Another study found that people who eat the typical American diet are at more risk for developing depression compared to those who eat foods with low amounts of sugar.
4. Excessive Sugar Compromises Immune System's Ability To Fight Viruses
Our immune system is very important in defending us from infections, but a 2009 study revealed that too much sugar can damage our immune system's ability to fight bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Eating food with table sugar or drinking honey and unsweetened orange juice both impaired the immune system of several healthy volunteers by 50 percent that lasted for up to 5 hours. This means that if you eat meals with high amounts of sugar, your immune system will only function at half its capacity.
What Should You Do?
In order to be in good physical and mental shape, you must allow yourself to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. Below are some tips to help you stay fit.
First, you should reduce your consumption of drinks and food with added sugars. Instead of sugary drinks, you should drink water, low-fat milks, and sugar-free drinks. Even 100 percent natural orange juice is too sugary, so limit the amount you drink to at only 150 ml (1.6 ounces) per day.
Second, instead of eating cakes or other pastries, you should switch to eating low-fat bread. You should also check the nutritional labels of the food and drinks you buy to see which contain less added sugar.
Lastly, you should take special note of the meals you take during breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as your desserts.
Just remember that your main goal is to cut down your excessive intake of sugar and opt for healthier alternatives.