Here Are All the Ways Sugar Is Actually Killing You
Is it nearly impossible to resist devouring a cupcake or doughnut? You’re not alone. Many people take an all-or-nothing approach to junk food. But you don’t have to stop eating sugar completely; just eat less — it can improve or even save your life.
Found in nearly all processed junk food, refined sugars are more harmful than most realize. Here’s how too much sugar could put your health at risk. One organ in particular is deeply affected by the sugar you consume (on page 9).
1. You can develop arthritis
If you suffer from painful, achy joints, you know inflammation is a major contributor. Unfortunately sugar secretes inflammatory proteins and hormones, which generate chronic inflammation. The toxins in sugar can even change your cartilage, making it more vulnerable to damage.
Even if your joint pain results from trauma, consuming sugar can hinder the healing process and make the pain worse. Cut back on processed foods and you’ll likely feel the difference.
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2. Your eyesight will suffer — seriously
Recent findings connect sugar to vision problems like blurriness, double vision, and long-term eyesight issues. High blood sugar can lead to swelling in the lens of your eye, putting you “at a higher risk of developing cataracts,” according to the American Optometric Association.
It can also cause the blood vessels in your eyes to narrow, putting you at risk of glaucoma. Untreated, this could permanently damage your optic nerve. If this wasn’t scary enough, high blood sugar makes you susceptible to age-related macular degeneration, a condition where your retina deteriorates.
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3. You’re more vulnerable to yeast infections
“Wherever there’s sugar, there’s yeast,” explains gynecologist Rebecca Booth, M.D. Blood sugar spikes — particularly when your blood sugar is low in the morning — runs a lot of glucose through your body, creating the perfect hangout for yeast. Once the yeast takes over, you’ll experience itchiness, inflammation, and burning down there among other uncomfortable symptoms.
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4. Sugar can lead to serious depression
Too much added sugar messes with your hormones and causes inflammatory responses in your brain. (Chocolate cake may make you feel better, but the feeling won’t last, especially if you make it a habit.)
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests postmenopausal women are at a higher risk of becoming depressed as a result of a diet high in added sugars, but it can also happen to anyone. Thankfully, a healthy diet may improve your mood, calm your anxiety, and make you feel less stressed.
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5. Your skin will break out and age faster
Your collagen and elastin — responsible for the smoothness and plumpness of your skin — breaks down faster the more sugar you consume. When glucose (from sugar) attaches to proteins (like collagen and elastin), it’s harder for protein to repair itself. This equals more wrinkles at a faster rate.
Want bright, smooth skin? Cut down on your sugar intake. It will help just as much as anti-aging creams and serums.
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6. Your smile will suffer
You get cavities if you eat too much sugar — we all know that. But did you know sugar sets off a chain reaction in your mouth, which can speed up or slow down based on the bacteria feeding off the sugar you consume? It’s like something from the movie Alien.
The bacteria creates acids that erode away your tooth enamel. This will take you from regular dentist checkups to painful toothaches, extra procedures, and all the money that comes with both.
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7. You’ll slowly starve yourself of vital nutrients
Research doesn’t lie; we’re eating too many processed foods. When you eat meals high in sugar, you tend to fill up on empty calories, and don’t leave enough room for protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Malnutrition, even when you’re overeating, can cause a number of health problems — everything from heart issues to death.
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8. You’ll crash when you need energy the most
With every sugar high comes an inevitable crash. Sugar crashes don’t feel good, and they could impact your long-term health. According to Everyday Health, low blood sugar can result in increased hunger, anxiety, restlessness, dizziness, and more.
Increased feelings of hunger can create what feel like intense sugar cravings, which can cause overeating and weight gain. Maintaining normal blood sugar levels, whether you have diabetes or not, can help you avoid consistent sugar crashes and ensure better health over your lifetime.
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9. You could develop diabetes
Your pancreas is responsible for producing insulin, which helps the sugar you eat move from your blood to your cells. According to Mayo Clinic, type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin. High blood sugar causes your pancreas to produce more insulin, and if this continues, it simply can’t keep up.
Type 2 diabetes has many risk factors, but a sugar-heavy diet is often what pushes your body from insulin resistant to diabetic. Many cases of type 2 diabetes are both preventable and reversible with big lifestyle changes. This usually involves a combination of weight loss, regular exercise, and eating fewer refined sugars.
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10. Your brain function may start to decrease
You can download all the brain training apps you want, but if refined sugars are a regular staple in your diet, you’re likely going to suffer the consequences. Too much sugar can impact your memory and cognitive function, especially as you age.
The Huffington Post says too much sugar is even a risk factor for dementia. Your brain needs sugar to continue functioning normally, but overloading it can cause even more long-term damage. If you really care about your brain, be mindful of what you’re eating.
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11. You’ll damage your liver long-term
Your liver is primarily responsible for detoxifying chemicals and metabolizing drugs in your body. Without normal liver function, the toxins in your body could kill you. Fructose could be considered one of these toxins if you eat too much of it over a long period of time — really.
Research suggests too much fructose could lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It’s up to your liver to metabolize fructose. The same way too much alcohol can damage your liver, too much fructose can lead to serious complications. If a food contains high-fructose corn syrup, try to avoid it.
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12. Your arteries could start closing up
Your arteries, which are responsible for transporting blood throughout your body, are susceptible to harm if too much sugar is present. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, high blood sugar is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in your arteries.
Your arteries must be able to transport oxygen-rich blood throughout your body in order to keep your organs functioning. Depending on the arteries affected, untreated atherosclerosis could cause a stroke or kidney failure.
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13. You may receive a cancer diagnosis
Insulin resistance can cause more long-term damage than a blood glucose meter can predict. You don’t often hear about high blood sugar when discussing risk factors for cancer. However, a review published in the Journal of Diabetes Research suggests having consistently high blood sugar can increase your cancer risk.
Diabetics often experience inflammation, which can create an environment that supports the development of cancer cells. If you have diabetes, this is one reason to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
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14. Your heart will suffer the consequences
Sugar-sweetened drinks are terrible for your heart. | iStock.com/RTimages
Researchers believe sugar, not just salt, could contribute to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for many heart problems. According to JAMA Internal Medicine, consuming large amounts of added sugars increases your risk of dying from heart disease.
Harvard Health Publications estimates people who get 10% or more of their daily calories from sugar get them from drinks with added sugars. Because sugar-sweetened beverages are so bad, reducing your consumption of soda, juice, and energy drinks could save your heart from irreversible damage.
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15. You start storing fat all over your body
It’s not fat that makes you fat — it’s sugar. One review found people who increased their sugar intake gained weight, while those who decreased their intake lost weight.
If you eat foods high in sugar, you probably eat fewer nutritious foods, which makes weight gain more probable and weight loss more difficult. Your body doesn’t know what to do with all the extra sugar you eat, so it stores it away.
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16. You’ll overeat more and more
Have you ever wondered why you feel full after eating a piece of fruit, but ravenous after just one piece of candy? Processed foods contain refined sugars, which can actually make you feel hungrier the more you eat, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
A hormone called ghrelin is released when your stomach is empty; when your stomach is full, secretion stops. But eating large amounts of fructose (found in sugar-sweetened drinks) messes with this appetite system.
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17. Sugar addiction is real — and you could get it
Sugar isn’t technically a drug, but you can become addicted to it pretty easily. According to Scientific American, your brain responds to refined sugars similar to how it might respond to gambling or cocaine.
Without much prompting, your brain’s reward centers make sweet treats feel like necessities. You may start to crave refined carbohydrates — even certain pastas and breads — when you aren’t even hungry. If you’re trying to quit sugar, it won’t be an easy process. But knowing your brain is playing tricks on you may help convince you to at least start cutting back.
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18. You might die earlier than you thought
Exercise, fruits and vegetables, and a consistent sleep schedule all help you live longer. None of these things matter, though, if you aren’t mindful abou your food. Research shows added sugars increase your risk for developing many potentially life-threatening diseases, including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
A sedentary lifestyle, chronic sleep deprivation, and poor nutrition can damage your health and make you miserable. Reducing the amount of sweeteners in your diet won’t necessarily solve all your problems. However, it could be an essential first step to leading a much longer, healthier life.
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19. You should know companies sneak it into your food
Though they’re required by law to list all nutrients and ingredients, manufacturers don’t make it easy to spot different types of sugars in your go-to snack foods. This makes cutting back on processed sugars even harder.
Sugar might go by dozens of different names, even on the same food label. Many of them don’t even have the word sugar in them at all, like high-fructose corn syrup, one of its most common pseudonyms.
Always look past the nutrition facts panel and look through the ingredients list. If any variation of sugar appears toward the beginning of the list, try your best to find a healthier alternative.
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20. Here’s how to start cutting back
You’ve probably heard it before, but cooking more of your own food is a huge help when it comes to controlling what goes into your body. Just think of barbecue sauce as an example.
A 2-tablespoon serving from a bottle has 14 grams of sugar, according to the USDA Food Composition Database. You can do much better in your own kitchen. And when you do need a sweet treat? Go for smarter options, such as chocolate-dipped bananas and homemade ice pops.