Do You Know the 45 Negative Health Effects of Sugar?

Added Sugar

Most people know that consuming excess sugar is not good for health. However, a new study indicates the negative health effects of added sugars are even worse than previously thought. Indeed, the new study, published in the BMJ, one of the world’s most respected medical journals, provides evidence of 45 adverse health effects linked to high consumption of added sugars. Is your sugar habit setting you up for physical and mental health problems?

The findings from this study, based on a total of 8,601 studies, underscore the importance of maintaining a low-sugar diet. This is especially true when you consider that Americans consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day! Here’s a closer look at the study findings, and what you can do to reduce your added sugar intake.

A new study provides evidence of 45 adverse health effects linked to high consumption of added sugars. The findings were based on the review of 73 meta-analyses – which altogether included 8,601 studies. Click To Tweet

WHAT ARE ADDED SUGARS?

The BMJ study findings were based on research that examined the health effects of free sugars, also called added sugars. The terms are synonymous and refer to sugar sweeteners that are added during the processing of foods. Examples of foods with added sugars are sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, baked goods, candy, cereals, crackers, snack foods, sauces, condiments, yogurts, and not-so-healthy “nutrition” bars.

Added sugars may include white sugar (table sugar) from sugar cane, or sucrose, as well as sugar cane’s many variations (brown sugar, confectioners’ sugar, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, etc.).  According to the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), added sugars may also include:

  • Dextrose (from wheat and corn)
  • Fructose (extracted from fruits and some veggies)
  • Syrups (like high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Honey
  • Sugars from concentrated fruit and vegetable juices

They do not include sugars naturally found in dairy and structurally whole fruits and vegetables.

NEGATIVE HEALTH EFFECTS ASSOCIATED WITH ADDED SUGARS

The BMJ review found that excess sugar consumption is associated with dozens of harmful health effects, which have been grouped into 5 main categories here:

1. Metabolic Effects

Added sugar tends to spike blood sugar levels, and frequently elevated blood sugar levels are not good for metabolism. The review found added sugar associated with changes in body mass index in children, both short- and long-term changes in body weight, obesity in children and adults, and fat accumulation in the liver and muscles.

Added sugar consumption was also linked to higher low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, higher levels of uric acid, and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diabetes, and gout.

Perhaps most concerning, free sugar consumption was linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that occur simultaneously, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

2. Heart Disease

Many people typically think of saturated fat as the food to avoid to maintain a healthy heart. However, when it comes to heart health, new research suggests that sugar is even worse than unhealthy fats. Sugar consumption tends to promote oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, which can have negative consequences for heart health. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake for this very reason.

According to the BMJ study’s findings, too much dietary added sugar is associated with increased risk for heart attacks, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and CVD mortality. It can also contribute to unhealthy blood pressure levels and stroke. In contrast, a non-sugar diet (meaning no added sugars) was associated with a lower incidence of CVD and stroke.

Some of the research reviewed suggested that for every additional 8 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed per day, there was a 17% higher risk of coronary heart disease.

3. Cancer

As oxidative stress, inflammation, and cancer are strongly linked, according to research, it makes sense that too much pro-inflammatory added sugars in the diet is associated with cancer as well.

The BMJ findings showed free sugar consumption linked to an increased risk of liver cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and breast cancer (and breast cancer mortality)—as well as overall cancer and cancer mortality. Some evidence, albeit not strong, suggested that for every additional 25 grams of fructose consumed per day, there was a 22% higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

The researchers suggested that the impact of dietary sugars on obesity might, in part, explain the link to cancer risk. Decades of research point to obesity as a strong risk factor for a number of cancers. Similarly, high blood sugar levels are strongly linked to type 2 diabetes, which may play a role in the development of cancers of the breast, prostate, liver, bladder, and endometrium.

The researchers also noted that consuming excessively added fructose can lead to a disturbance in gut microflora and damage to the intestinal wall. This can lead to metabolic toxins, inflammation, and lipid accumulation, potentially leading to the development of colorectal cancer.

4. Neuropsychiatric Conditions

The study also examined the effects of sugar on mental health, which revealed a link to depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and addiction-like behavior.

In one of the reviewed studies, when animal subjects were fed a high-fructose diet, they displayed anxious and depressive behaviors.

Additionally, one of the reviewed articles showed an association between increased sugar-sweetened beverages and total sugar consumption with an increased risk of ADHD, also known as attention-deficit disorder (ADD).

Here at Amen Clinics, we’ve previously reported that sugar acts like a drug by activating the reward centers of the brain and triggering the release of dopamine, which makes you feel good and compels you to eat more. Indeed, the BMJ study reviewed animal research indicating a link between sugar consumption and the activation of the dopaminergic reward system. The evidence suggested sugar dependence is similar to addiction to morphine or cocaine!

5. Other Negative Health Effects and Other Factors Linked to Added Sugar

There were many other negative health associations with added sugar consumption in the study, including higher incidence of dental caries and erosion, bone mineral density loss, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, asthma, and all-cause mortality.

All of these ill health effects are observed associations, not conclusive evidence. It’s important to keep in mind that high-sugar consumption may indicate an overall unhealthy diet and lifestyle, which may factor into negative health outcomes.

HOW TO REDUCE ADDED SUGAR INTAKE

The researchers recommend reducing the consumption of free sugars or added sugars to less than 25 grams of sugar a day (about 6 teaspoons a day) and restricting sugar-sweetened beverages to less than one serving (about 6 to 12 ounces) a week to reduce the ill health effects of sugar.

Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Read labels: Increase your awareness of what you put in your body by reading nutrition labels on all packaged foods.
  2. Consume foods that support healthy blood sugar levels: Committing to a no-sugar diet (or a low-sugar diet under 25 grams per day) helps avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes.

Some blood-sugar-lowering foods include broccoli, kale, avocado, apples, okra, flaxseeds, chia seeds, kimchi, sauerkraut, and citrus fruits. Additional foods that may help control blood sugar include seafood, pumpkin seeds, nuts, berries, kefir, yogurt, oats, beans and lentils, and eggs. An added benefit, these foods are brain healthy too!

  1. Create new habits: Instead of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, choose an herbal tea or green iced tea, plain water and lemon, or a stevia-sweetened beverage. Save sugary desserts for rare occasions only, instead opting for whole fruit or unsweetened frozen fruit for dessert. Fresh berries, a few apple slices, or a little dried fruit in moderation can be very satisfying. Add a few nuts or a serving of unsweetened yogurt to balance the natural sugars in the fruit and keep blood sugar levels steady.

Taking these small actions on a daily basis will go a long way in protecting yourself against the harmful effects of too much added sugar.

Diet-related health problems and mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

5 Comments »

  1. Your article rings so true & it would be wonderful if you could speak @ our Albemarle County , Va. school system 🙂

    Comment by Graff — July 17, 2023 @ 3:31 AM

  2. Thank you for this article. I hope it reaches many people. The most dangerous food items in every grocery store are in the cereal isle. Children eat a bowl of sugar and food coloring for breakfast then, in school, they are expected to sit still and think.
    How utterly ridiculous is that!
    Even WIC allows processed ceral. Kix might have less sugar but it is still highly processed and loaded with excessive sugars.
    I wonder if our love for sugar is actually from our ancient past when we would have scarfed up as much fruit as possible in the Autumn to pack on fat that would get us through the long winter of food scarcity.

    Comment by Esther H — July 17, 2023 @ 6:42 AM

  3. Sùgar is definitely hazardous for the gut and joints

    Comment by Scott Lamb — July 17, 2023 @ 12:35 PM

  4. excellent advice!

    Comment by Doug Morris — September 8, 2023 @ 10:34 PM

  5. Sugar and alcohol are toxic to the human body. Both are highly addictive! Coupled with the large food portions consumed at each meal, the liver becomes overloaded and this leads to fatty liver ( silent epidemic) and other digestive impairment. The liver is responsible for detoxification of the body.

    Comment by Liana Schill — September 9, 2023 @ 11:01 PM

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