Sugar’s Top 5 Toxic Effects on Your Health
By Sarah Axtell, ND • June 14, 2015
Sugar is one of the most toxic, addictive substances in our diets. It’s not just diabetics that need to avoid sugar. If you are looking to lose weight, reduce your blood pressure, fight cancer or balance your hormones, think twice about eating the sweet stuff.
1. Fat Storage
Elevations in blood sugar trigger your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is a fat-promoting hormone. Individuals that avoid fat tend to eat too many carbohydrates, which programs insulin levels to remain high, thus leading to fat storage.
The hallmarks of diabetes is elevated blood glucose and associated insulin resistance.
3. High Blood Pressure
Often people with hypertension also have insulin resistance. Eating sugars and refined grains, such as breads, pastas, rice and corn, will cause your insulin levels to remain elevated. Elevated insulin blocks magnesium from being stored in your cells. When magnesium levels are low, blood vessels constrict and blood pressure increases.
You’ve maybe heard “sugar feeds cancer.” Here is why- Increased insulin levels are pro-inflammatory and pro-cancer and can directly promote tumor cell proliferation via the insulin/IGF-1 signaling pathway.
Normal breast cells and cancer cells have insulin receptors on them. When insulin attaches to its receptor, it has the same effect as when estrogen attaches to its receptor. It causes cells to start dividing. The higher the insulin levels are, the faster breast cells will divide. The faster breast cells divide, the higher your risk of breast cancer.
5. Hormonal Imbalance
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder of premenopausal women. Signs and symptoms include male pattern growth (think beard, ladies!), irregular periods, obesity, cysts on ovaries, and insulin resistance. Insulin stimulates the ovaries to produce testosterone, which can lead to male pattern hair growth and irregular periods. Whenever I see patients with PCOS, I check their insulin levels and they are often elevated. One of my wellness goals is to reduce insulin to ultimately balance their hormones.
I have also seen women that struggle with menopausal symptoms and PMS benefit greatly by eliminating sugar.
Recommendations to Reduce Your Blood Sugar and Insulin
Diet: Increase protein and fat and decrease carbs. Eating protein stimulates the pancreas to produce glucagon, the hormone that counteracts insulin and mobilizes fat from storage. Aim for at least 30% of your calories to be derived from protein.
Fat also helps to stabilize blood sugar. Olive oil, eggs, coconut, organic grass fed butter, olives, avocadoes, grass fed meat, salmon, nuts, seeds, nut butters are all good options.
Reduce your consumption of carbs. This is the most important take-home. Carbs found in fruits and vegetables are ok because they are paired with fiber to help slow the release of insulin. Consider avoiding carbs in the form of grains, especially refined grains white bread, white rice, pasta. Grains cause blood sugar to spike, resulting in an insulin surge
Avoid white refined sugar. You are likely aware that sugar is found in sweets (cookies, cakes, ice cream, soda). But I recommend you start checking labels for hidden sugars. Sugar is in most processed foods- yogurt, ketchup, salad dressings, sauces, and soups.
When you are in a fed state, your body produces insulin to maintain blood sugar. Insulin’s job is to take sugar from the blood and store it in liver, muscle and fat cells. This promotes fat storage. Intermittent fasting is the concept of periodic fasting throughout the day or week to promote better fat burning and better insulin sensitivity. Start with a 12 hour over-night fast. Cut yourself off from food after 7 pm and don’t eat breakfast again until 7 am.
Sleep – Get 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep loss can lead to insulin resistance and reduced levels of growth hormones that help to regulate fat and muscle proportions.
Exercise reduces blood sugar and insulin resistance by about 40% and effects persist up to 48 hours. Regular aerobic exercise is one of the most effective thing you can do to promote good health. Aim for 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 4 days a week. This can be split up during the day if that is more conducive for your schedule. For example two 20 minute walks are just as effective as one 40 minute walk. Aim for exercise post-meals.
Herbs and Supplements
- NAC (N-acetly cysteine)- improves insulin sensitivity in patients with PCOS
- Chromium- decreases blood sugar and thus insulin resistance
- Gymnema- an herb to sensitize your cells to insulin
- Flaxseeds, ground- shown to be as effective as oral hormone replacement therapy in reducing glucose and insulin in menopausal patients
- Berberine- an herb found to be just as effective as metformin, the blood sugar lowering drug
Testing for Blood Sugar and Insulin
Ask your doctor to test both your fasting blood glucose and insulin levels. It is a simple blood test that can give you an invaluable amount of information in terms of your health and disease risk. Aim for a fasting blood sugar of 80-90 and fasting insulin level of less than 10 for optimal health.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.