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Sugar, Your Body and You

Sugar, Your Body and You
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By Hilary Young

Mary Poppins may have been wrong about that spoonful of sugar. It might help the medicine go down, but it seems to be making everyone sick.  Maybe you’ve read articles about the potential dangers of sugar content in soft drinks. The anti-sugar movement has gone mainstream and there seems to be no way to avoid it.

But just how harmful is sugar to the human body?


Research has shown that sugar can have detrimental effects on brain cells, especially when it comes to memory and cognitive impairment.

A study from researchers at University of Southern California was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in August 2014 revealed that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks is “interfering with our brain’s ability to function normally and remember critical information about our environment, at least when consumed in excess before adulthood.”

For this study, researchers sweetened the food of adolescent lab rats with high fructose corn syrup or regular cane sugar, both mimic the ingredients typically found in soft drinks. At the end of one month’s time, the rats were tested and results showed that while their brain abilities were normal, their learning and memory was impaired.

In 2013, student researchers at Connecticut College concluded that sugar can be just as addictive to the brain as cocaine. The researchers put two different food options in a maze for lab rats—Oreo cookies and rice cakes. They gave the rats the option of spending time on either side of the maze and measured how long they would spend on each. They then compared the results of their test with results from rats who were given an injection of cocaine or morphine on one side of the maze and saline on the other. The study concluded that the rats who chose the Oreos spent as much time with them as the rats who chose the morphine or cocaine.

PET scans of the human brain confirmed the findings of the researchers, showing that the same area of the brain lights up with sugar or cocaine, both with low levels of dopamine.


By now, its common knowledge that a diet high in sugar and fats can lead to chronic illness such as Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure, but studies now show that more added sugar in a persons diet can increase their risk of dying from heart disease.

The Centers for Disease Control examined data from 31,000 participants in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which compared a variety of lifestyle and physical variables to health outcomes. The researchers discovered that 70 percent of adults get 10 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar. People who consume 15 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar have an 18 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared to those who limit their added sugar intake. People who consume over 21 percent of their daily calories from added sugar face double the risk of death.

The CDC was surprised to find that those numbers existed independently of factors such as weight, calorie intake, smoking, blood pressure, gender, cholesterol level or physical activity. Their findings indicate that there is a specific relationship between sugar and the human heart.


Sugar also has the power to do as much damage to your liver as alcohol. A study published in 2013 found that the production of fructose from glucose in the liver leads to the development of metabolic syndrome in mice.

Researchers at the University of Colorado tested their theory on two different types of mice: those can process glucose and fructose in the liver and those that cannot. After 14 weeks of feeding both types of mice a diet made up of 10 percent glucose and 90 percent regular food, the mice that process glucose showed signs of having developed metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by an increase in calories and body weight, visceral obesity, fatty liver, elevated insulin levels and hyperleptinemia.

The authors of the study wrote about their findings, showing that this “provides new insights into how carbohydrates may cause obesity, fatty liver and insulin resistance. We are now suffering a huge epidemic of metabolic syndrome…and we can correlate the onset of the epidemic with the increased consumption of sugars.”

So What’s The Bottom Line on Sugar?

While all the scientists behind these studies agree that more research needs to be done on the effects of sugar on the human body, they also suggest that we all make an effort to reduce the amount of sugar we eat on a daily basis. Whether that means cutting out that slice of cake at the end of the night, making a commitment to cook more in order to avoid processed foods, or simply starting to look for sugar content on nutrition labels—the first step is a good step towards taking your health into your own hands.


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