Inflammation and Sugar, the Connection

By Theresa Harding

Are you currently taking supplements for inflammationDo you find that no matter what you take for body aches and pains and inflammation, you still experience some level of pain in your body?  The reason may lie in your diet and sugar consumption.  Sugar contributes to inflammation!

More and more research indicates that most disease – including all chronic disease – begins with some kind of inflammation. If you could control inflammation and improve your health, you’d want to, right?

Inflammation is vital as part of the healing process. It defends the body against foreign invaders (including bacteria and viruses), repairs damaged tissue, restricts damaging motion through swelling, and a lot more. Some foods, like sugar, can also cause inflammation in the body, which is normal.

However, eating too many inflammatory foods may cause chronic low-grade inflammation. This can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and allergies. Eating low inflammatory foods can prevent this.  One trigger is the food we eat – and sugar tops the list for several reasons. Sugar triggers pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Cytokines are small proteins that work as signal molecules. They summon cells to infection sites, trauma, and inflammation. Sugar may promote pro-inflammatory cytokines and reduce anti-inflammatory cytokines.

How Sugar Affects Your Body

  • Sugar triggers AGEs (advanced glycation end products).
    Other foods high on the glycemic index do, as well, by promoting high insulin release. AGEs stimulate inflammation and have been linked with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and such age-related diseases as Alzheimer’s and stroke
  • Sugar suppresses white blood cell activity. White blood cell activity is a natural part of the healing process. When the process is suppressed, healing may be incomplete. Chronic inflammation can result.
  • Sugar triggers the release of inflammatory prostaglandins.  Prostaglandins are short-lived, hormone-like chemicals, produced by the body’s cells. Instead of moving through the bloodstream, these hormones move from cell to cell and regulate all kinds of cellular activities.
  • Consuming too many added sugars and refined carbohydrates can lead to an excess amount of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are formed as a normal part of metabolism; however with a surplus of glucose (from added sugars and refined carbs in our diet), excessive AGE formation occurs. Having too many AGEs contributes to oxidative stress and inflammation by binding with our cells and integral proteins, changing their structure and interfering with their normal function. This alteration can eventually lead to a buildup of plaque in our arteries (atherosclerosis) and decreased kidney function, among other effects.
  • Also, as many of us know, a diet rich in added sugar and refined carbohydrates can often lead to weight gain and obesity. Excess body fat, especially in the abdominal area, causes continuous, chronic levels of inflammation that can alter the action of insulin. Insulin is a regulatory hormone that plays an important role in transporting the glucose in your bloodstream into your cells, where it is used as energy. However, with chronically high levels of blood glucose, the production and regulation of insulin is altered, and insulin resistance can result. Consequently, the excessive amount of blood glucose can lead to an accumulation of AGEs.

What Can We Do to Reduce Chronic Inflammation?

I’ve always learned that taking supplements for inflammation was the only answer.  I never looked at my diet and sugar intake as the contributing factor to my pains, but once I eliminated refined sugar from my diet, and added low inflammatory foods, I experienced new results!  No pain!  I first started with a low sugar intake, then eventually I eliminated refined sugars from my diet all together, then I started to see results of the decreased pain, and today, no knee pains. 

Chronic inflammation is often a result of diet and lifestyle, so you can take important steps to minimize inflammation and its harmful effects on the body.

  • Limit unnecessary sources of added sugar and refined carbohydrates in your diet.  Minimize your consumption of foods with a low sugar intake (which can be listed on the food label as sucrose, low inflammatory foods, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose), as well as foods with refined carbohydrates (this includes many processed foods such as pasta, white bread, and white rice).
  • Eat more whole grains. Choose whole grains such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and barley. Due to the high fiber content, whole grains can help slow down absorption, thereby decreasing the speed at which sugars enter the bloodstream.
  • Increase your daily intake of vegetables and fruit. Although fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain complex carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugars, it is thought that these foods contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals which conversely help to reduce AGE formation. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are high in fiber which can help decrease the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream. Try to get at least 10 servings a day.
  • Include a variety of antioxidant rich foods and heart healthy fats in your diet. In addition to fruits and vegetables, other sources of antioxidants include flax, chia and hemp seeds, avocado, nuts, wild salmon, omega-3 rich eggs, olive and canola oil, and small cold water fish such as mackerel, herring, and sardines. Eating these foods on a regular basis will help to counter inflammation and reduce oxidative stress.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Factors such as exercising regularly, managing stress, and not smoking can help to reduce inflammation. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important in promoting proper insulin function.  If you find that after doing all these things, even a low sugar intake, you still experience the same level of pain, then supplements for inflammation may be needed.  Always remember, speak with your doctor before trying any new diet or supplements.  If you need another form of sugar to use in your foods, try coconut palm sugar or raw honey.  I used raw honey most of the time.  I usually use coconut palm sugar in my baked recipes instead of sugar.  Try these and see how you like them.
  • References

https://www.weightandwellness.com/resources/articles-and-videos/sugar-aches/

https://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/foods-cause-inflammation

https://iquitsugar.com/sugar-inflammation-osteopath/

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/09/glucose-inflammation/498965/

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About the Author Theresa Harding

Healthy Living isn't difficult. It requires an ongoing lifestyle change with patience and an open mind. I teach this mindset all the time. After 11 years of transitioning from an unhealthy lifestyle to a pain-free one, I think it's important to share my knowledge and research with those who are ready to make that shift in their health and wellness.

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