Sugar, meet the Ose’s!
If the goal of your eating habits includes promoting health and longevity, you must avoid added sugars. No, we are not talking about the carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. We are talking about the added sugars associated with packaged foods.
Table sugar, otherwise known as “sucrose”, is made up of two simple sugars bonded together: 50% fructose & 50% glucose. Raw sugar, often advertised as a healthy and more nutrient dense form of sugar, has the same makeup. There is no difference between the two. Brown sugar is again, just sugar. It’s mixed in with molasses, but it has the same composition.
Blood sugar, otherwise known as glucose, is the sugar that circulates in your blood. Fructose, another form of sugar, is found in plants, fruits, and honey. As you will see later, the presence of fructose, not glucose, is the problem in refined sugars. Fruits are safe and nutritious, but only in their whole and natural form. When you eat fruit in its natural state, there are lots of dietary fibers present to slow down digestion. This makes them much less demanding on the blood sugar metabolism. Fruit juice, on the other hand, is another story. Fruit juice is just another packaged and/or processed food. In many ways, the juice is like soda since its essential impact is a sugar rush.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been made to look very bad lately, but, it’s actually very similar in chemical composition to table sugar: 55% fructose to 45% glucose. Both are equally damaging to your health. However, if you look at the fructose concentration in, for example, unsweetened apple juice you find another story, it is 71% fructose. That is an even worse concentration than table sugar or HFCS! There is more sugar in an ounce of unsweetened apple juice than in an equivalent amount of Coca-Cola.
But wait! What about so-called “healthy sugar”? Enter agave syrup, which is sometimes called agave nectar. Samples from two different manufacturers that make the majority of agave syrups in the US found that both contain 70-85% fructose, with the other 15-30% being glucose. Do not fool yourself; sugar is sugar, even when it is sold under the pretense that it is a health food.
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
The title in this section is taken from an excellent Youtube video by Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. For more details and information regarding this section on the metabolism of sugar, please watch his video of the same title.
When you ingest sweeteners such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, or maple syrup, your body breaks them down into their elemental simple sugars: glucose and fructose. These two sugars are metabolized by your body in completely different ways. The difference between the two is why fructose is toxic and glucose is not.
The fructose vs. glucose debate first made headlines in 2009. Scientists from the University of California Davis studied people who were given 25% of their daily calorie needs as either a fructose or glucose drink for 10 weeks. The end result was a striking difference in how subjects gained weight. Both groups put on pounds, but it was the fructose group that gained a significant amount of unhealthy, visceral abdominal fat. This means fat around your organs. Visceral fat is not the pinch an inch kind of fat. It is a defined marker of future heart disease. The fructose group also had elevations in fasting blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance while the glucose group did not have any of those increases.
The authors of the study reasoned that this difference was due to the way that the sugars are metabolized. Without going into too much biochemistry, when the liver metabolizes glucose, there are response mechanisms that stop it from absorbing too much. Similar mechanisms do NOT exist for fructose. So, when the liver takes up and metabolizes too much fructose; it leads to the increased fat cell division, blood sugar and insulin resistance seen in the study.
How does this relate to illness and disease? Actually, it’s all about insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that lowers blood sugar levels. Insulin is made by the pancreas and released into the blood at times when sugar levels go up, such as after eating. Insulin is a sort of gatekeeper. It helps glucose enter the body’s cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for future use. If you have diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or the body can’t respond normally to the insulin that is made. This causes the level of sugars in the blood to rise.
The large majority of people with heart disease and diabetes have, over the years, had a history of poor insulin sensitivity known as insulin resistance. This sets the stage for a whole host of health problems. An autoimmune process, whereby the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, is the underlying cause of type 1 diabetes. This is a different process from so-called ‘adult-onset’ or type 2 diabetes.
People with type 2 diabetes have a metabolic imbalance of both insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity in their cells, as opposed to the absolute deficiency of insulin observed with type 1 diabetes. In patients with type 2 diabetes, a number of factors lead to a poor response to insulin in muscle, fat, and in the liver. The end result, mind you, is the same. Cells become resistant to insulin and blood sugar levels go up in the blood. This triggers the pancreas to overcompensate by producing greater quantities of insulin. Blood levels of insulin double, triple, even quadruple as the pancreas struggles to overpower the body’s poor responsiveness to insulin. This is the condition called “insulin resistance.”
For all practical purposes, adult-onset, or type 2, diabetes is synonymous with poor sensitivity to insulin. Insulin resistance is a fundamental cause of a group of metabolic abnormalities that are assembled together in a condition called “metabolic syndrome”. This disorder is associated with the onset of a host of undesirable consequences such as rising blood sugar, increased triglycerides leading to a reduction in beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL), an increase in dangerous very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particles, greater risk for blood clotting, and high blood pressure.
The list of metabolic phenomena triggered by insulin resistance should at this point appear familiar to you. These are also risk factors for heart disease. Why does this happen? The answer is simple although it is a little startling! Have you ever watched a pastry turn golden brown? That m-m-m-yummy color is actually a chemical response which occurs when sugar is heated. In cooking it is known as caramelization. It is important, as we transition into our next causative factor for heart disease, that we realize that inflammation is heat. In-FLAME-ation.
Aging through AGEs : Advanced Glycation End-Products
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This photo (Illustration 1.0) illustrates what Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs) are: sugar bound to protein/fat, which are then heated in the absence of water. A glazed ham: pineapple juice, fat, protein, and heat. This creates all the factors related to atherosclerosis. M-m-m-m, not so yummy when it happens inside us!
Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs) are the by-product of glycation reactions. AGEs happen when a sugar molecule bonds to either a protein or lipid molecule without an enzyme to control the reaction. Glycation is a haphazard process that impairs the functioning of biomolecules. It essentially gums up the works and makes the proteins and fats that are involved non-usable for regular maintenance of healthy cellular functions. Think of spilling soda on a counter top and letting it sit exposed to oxygen for a while, that sticky mess is what AGEs do inside your body! So, the example of the glazed ham serves as a good metaphor for understanding the glycation of fat and protein. AGEs can come from two sources: external, (our food intake) and internal, (their production inside the body).
AGE formation from external sources (our food):
When proteins are cooked with sugars without the presence of water, AGEs are formed. Water, however, prevents the sugars from binding to the protein molecules. Hydration (the presence of water) literally cools the fire from inflammation. These proteins are not just animal proteins. They can include grains, vegetable, and fruits. Every food has some protein in it. These are the very reactions that give certain foods their flavors after cooking. Food-related AGEs are absorbed with about 30% efficiency.
AGE Formation from internal processes:
Once eaten, our bodies can and will glycate sugars thus forming AGEs. Some sugar in the bloodstream gets glycated. The rest runs around messing with your metabolism. For example, think of a diabetic with elevated blood sugar. There are plenty of chances for this circulating excess sugar to be glycated. This helps explain why diabetics have such high incidences of heart disease, as well as other age-related degeneration.
Fructose undergoes glycation at about 10 times the rate that glucose does (Suárez G, 1989). That equates to 10 times the rate of AGE production. Considering the dramatic rise in sugar consumption over the past several decades, and the subsequent increase in fructose consumption (recall that most sweeteners are about 50% fructose), is it a surprise that we are seeing rising rates of heart disease, arthritis, and other glycation-related health problems?
The body is able to process AGEs safely, but you have to create/intake them slowly. The life span of AGEs is approximately double that of an average cell. That means that the damage done by excessive sugar takes twice the time to heal that non-glycated tissue does. This is especially important in cells that don’t replace themselves often, such as nerve, brain, eye & collagen proteins … even your DNA can get glycated!
AGEs are causative factors for many age-related chronic diseases in developed countries. They comprise a list of illness, such as: type II diabetes mellitus (beta cell damage), cardiovascular diseases (the endothelium, fibrinogen, and collagen are damaged), Alzheimer’s disease (amyloid proteins are side-products of the reactions progressing to AGEs), cancer (acrylamide and other side-products are released), peripheral neuropathy (the myelin is attacked), and other sensory losses such as deafness (due to demyelination) and blindness (mostly due to microvascular damage in the retina). The endothelial cells of the blood vessel walls are damaged directly by glycations, which are implicated in atherosclerosis. Atherosclerotic plaque tends to accumulate in areas of high blood flow (such as the entrance to the coronary arteries). This is due to the increased presence at these points of sugar molecules, glycations, and glycation end-products. Damage by glycation results in the stiffening of collagen in the blood vessel walls. This leads to high blood pressure. Glycations also cause weakening of the collagen in the blood vessel walls, which may lead to micro or macro-aneurisms. This may cause strokes if it occurs in the brain.
Sugar and Cancer
Of the millions of cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy, very few are being given any form of dietary advice or intervention. Generally speaking, they are just told to “eat well”. When a patient loses their appetite they are often told to drink meal replacement shakes which, by the way, have been scientifically proven to be a very bad idea.
Cancer does have a preferred fuel source, glucose. By slowing cancer’s growth, patients allow their immune systems and medical de-bulking therapies, (such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery), to reduce the weight of a tumor’s mass. They are then able to catch up to and fight the disease. But, in addition, controlling one’s blood-glucose levels through diet, supplements, (including some prescription medications), and exercise may be one of the most important factors to a cancer recovery program. As much as many cancer societies have openly called the phrase “sugar feeds cancer” a myth, it is actually a fact. To explain this, let’s take a deeper look at the topic.
The 1931 Nobel laureate in medicine, German Otto Warburg, Ph.D., first discovered that cancer cells have a fundamentally distinctive energy metabolism when compared to healthy cells. The core of his Nobel Prize awarded hypothesis was that cancerous tumors commonly have an increase in something called anaerobic glycolysis. This is a process in which blood sugar (glucose) is used as a fuel by cancer cells with lactic acid as an anaerobic by-product. The large volume of lactic acid generated by this fermentation of glucose from cancer cells is then transported to the liver. This conversion of glucose to lactate generates a lower, more acidic pH in cancerous tissues as well as overall physical fatigue from lactic acid buildup. Thus, larger tumors tend to exhibit a more acidic pH. This is why you often hear people say that cancers hate alkaline environments. While regulation the human body is much more complex than a simple “just eat vegetables and drink this alkaline water” approach, it is worth noting that while sugar is highly acid forming, so are grains and carbohydrates in general. Remember that avoiding sugar means eating more fat, otherwise, your body and brain will not have enough energy to function properly.
Cancer has a very inefficient pathway for energy metabolism. It yields only 2 units of adenosine triphosphate (ATP, our cellular energy currency) energy per unit of glucose. Compare this to the 38 units of ATP in the complete aerobic oxidation of glucose. By obtaining only about 5 percent (2 units of ATP vs. 38 units of ATP) of the available energy from the food we eat and the body’s calorie stores, the cancer is “wasting” energy. This basically means that someone with cancer develops massive fatigue and is undernourished. This brutal progression amplifies itself and results in body wasting. Nearly half of all cancer patients die from malnutrition.
Knowing the above facts sure makes you wonder why any health professional would recommend sugar loaded meal replacement bars and shakes to a cancer patient? These well-meaning doctors are literally feeding a tumor while administering their medications and treatments. Though very profitable manufacturers of such supplements, it is not in the best interest of the patient. Instead, cancer therapies should start at home by regulating blood sugar with diet, herbs/supplements, and prescriptive medications. Even better, they should be safely guided on to a ketogenic diet combined with intermittent fasting in order to literally starve cancerous tumors.
We are not designed to burn sugar as a primary source of fuel. When we consume large amounts of carbohydrates, while adding sugars and fructose found in packaged foods and drinks, we literally set the stage for disastrous consequences. For more information about why we are built to burn fat, please see our post “The Primal Origins of the Human Diet” (CLICK HERE).
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