National Nutrition Month: The Effects of Sugar Addiction on the Body

While sugar may seem like an innocuous substance to some, the compound can cause severe damage to both physical and mental health when consumed in excessive amounts. Experts believe that high sugar intake is one of the leading causes of rising obesity and chronic disease rates across the globe. What’s more, chronic overconsumption can increase future cravings for sugar and ultimately result in sugar addiction, which has become prevalent in the population. Many people remain unaware of the negative health effects the substance has on their bodies and even the amount they are consuming on a daily basis, as sugar is often a hidden ingredient in various food products. These individuals experience a heightened risk of developing one or more of the many conditions associated with high sugar consumption, including but not limited to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

What Is Sugar Addiction?

Sugar is addictive. Experts have likened its addictive properties to those of cocaine as it can increase energy and result in a short-term euphoric feeling. Meanwhile, the long-term health consequences of excessive sugar consumption – such as obesity and chronic disease – add to the dangers of sugar as a drug that is often overlooked. Studies have demonstrated that the effects of sugar addiction, withdrawal, and relapse are comparable to those associated with narcotics and other illicit drugs.

Today, a large proportion of the daily calorie intake is dedicated to processed foods due primarily to ease of accessibility, affordability, and time constraints. As part of the conventional American diet, the main sources of sugar are sweetened beverages (soft drinks, fruit juices, and others), cereals, yogurts, sweets, and most other processed foods.

In the United States, added sugars account for up to 17% of total adult calorie intake – nearly double the recommended amount according to dietary guidelines. Additionally, many individuals remain unaware of the added sugars they consume due to a pervasive lack of nutrition education.

The Adverse Effects of Excessive Sugar Consumption

While weight gain and a heightened risk of diabetes are well-known and well-established negative effects of consuming large amounts of sugar, this habit impacts a range of biological systems. As such, high sugar consumption can also contribute to the development of chronic disease and affect systemic health – even causing damage on a cellular level.

Impact on the Body

A key repercussion of excessive sugar consumption is obesity; rising obesity rates across the globe have been linked to sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods which do may cause leptin resistance and, in turn, weight gain. Consuming such drinks has also been associated with increased amounts of visceral fat.

Furthermore, regular sugar overconsumption can spike insulin levels and increase triglycerides which contribute to inflammation and ultimately heighten the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Prolonged high sugar consumption can also drive insulin resistance, significantly increasing the risk of diabetes. Findings from a population study reported that the risk for diabetes grows approximately 1% for every 150 calories of sugar consumed per day.

Findings also indicate that large amounts of fructose or high fructose corn syrup can damage the liver and lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

Impact on the Brain

The detrimental results of excessive sugar intake are not limited to the body. Swings in blood sugar levels, neurotransmitter dysregulation, and inflammation associated with sugar consumption may all have an impact on mental health.

In fact, a diet high in added sugar and processed foods has been found to increase the risk of developing depression. A long-term study found that men who consumed over 67 grams of sugar per day were up to 23% more likely to develop depression than men who consumed fewer than 40 grams daily.

Research has also found a correlation between excessive high fructose corn syrup consumption and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Impact on a Cellular Level

The shortening of telomeres is a natural component of aging, although unhealthy lifestyle and dietary choices can accelerate this process. Consuming excessive sugar has been shown to accelerate telomere shortening, thereby increasing cellular aging.

study conducted in over 5,000 adults reported that regular drinking of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with shortened telomere length and premature cellular aging. Each daily 20-ounce serving of a sugar-sweetened drink equated to 4.6 additional years of aging, independently from other factors.

Stopping Cravings and Curbing Sugar Addiction

As the list of potential ramifications goes on, tackling sugar addiction and chronic overconsumption in the population is a necessary step. Most successful will be dietary interventions that directly limit sugar consumption and replace processed products with whole foods. Eating whole fruits, vegetables, and grains instead of processed snacks with added sugars will help keep blood glucose levels stable throughout the day. Meanwhile, avoiding high-fructose corn syrup-containing items and cutting out refined carbohydrates can help decrease inflammation and balance hormone levels. Additionally, mindfulness techniques can be incorporated as a supportive measure; these can include post-meal walks, meditation, and mindful eating practices to slow down the speed of food consumption.

Explore Innovative Nutrition-Based Health Interventions 

Are you interested in the power of nutrition to restore optimal health and prevent chronic disease? Join functional medicine experts at the upcoming 30th Annual Spring Congress to learn about the latest science-backed, nutrition-based interventions and the wide-ranging potential of the diet in clinical practice.