A Play-By-Play of Sugar’s Ravaging EffectsAll it takes is one hour—60 minutes—for sugar to quite literally wreak havoc in your body, and it starts within mere minutes of it touching your tongue.
Minute 0-15: Tooth and Gum ErosionNot surprisingly, your teeth and gums are the first to experience the wrath. The bacteria naturally present in your saliva mix with the sugar, forming an acid that erodes your tooth enamel (which can never be regrown).
Minute 15-30: Blood Pressure SpikesOnce the sugar passes through the stomach and into the small intestine, it is absorbed by the blood stream. The pancreas then gets to work, releasing insulin to convert as much of the sugar as possible into energy. The inevitable excess that cannot be converted into energy gets sent to the liver. While all this is going on, the body misinterprets the spike in sugar and energy production as the result of a stressful event (think: car accident or being chased by a burglar or wild animal…). So it responds by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, as well as epinephrine, which causes blood pressure to rise. Levels of the brain chemical dopamine start to increase as well. This causes the distinctive “sugar high” (which is frighteningly similar to the highs and consequent addiction achieved with illicit drugs like heroin). But it doesn’t last long…
Minute 30-45: The Crash OccursThe high ends quickly, within minutes. What follows is the miserable “crash”—the major drop in blood sugar. You may start to feel tired, irritable, fatigued, depressed, and headachy. In a desperate attempt to try to restore stability, your body pulls stored sugar from the liver. But it’s fighting a losing battle.
Minute 45-60: Immune System WeakensThis hour of hormonal ups and downs temporarily weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections for up to several hours after your indulgence. If you stop eating massive amounts of sugar, your body will eventually get back to normal. But, considering how much added sugar most Americans consume (by some estimates, about 43 teaspoons, almost a cup, per day!), this up-and-down swing of blood sugar, insulin, cortisol, and other chemicals becomes a never-ending cycle that eventually leads to serious, often permanent health problems. I want to clarify one thing, though. This whole destructive process only happens when you consume added or processed sugars (table sugar or high fructose corn syrup typically found in countless beverages, cakes, pastries, cookies, ice cream, bread, and even the healthier-sounding “natural sweeteners” like honey, agave nectar, and brown rice syrup). Whole fruit? It’s exempt from this roller coaster. While whole fruit does have sugar (in the form of fructose), it’s accompanied by loads of fiber and water, not to mention vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds. The high fiber content in fruit allows it to move through the digestive tract slowly, so you don’t get the same intense blood sugar and hormone spikes you’d experience with processed sugar. Your organs are designed to easily handle this slow release of sugar without getting overwhelmed.
It Gets Worse…Think it can’t get worse? It can. Drink a soda… With sugar-sweetened sodas, you have all the same terrible effects that come from eating sugary foods, along with added destruction courtesy of phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid is an additive used to preserve freshness and enhance the flavor of soda. Our bodies need some phosphorus (about 700 mg per day) for healthy bones and to regulate normal body function, and it can easily be obtained through a healthy diet. But excess phosphorus (which most people get in the form of phosphoric acid through sodas) has the exact opposite effect on health. For one, your kidneys are forced to work extremely hard to eliminate extra phosphorus in your body. Over time, this can lead to poor kidney function, kidney stones, and even kidney disease. In addition, within an hour of drinking a soda, the phosphoric acid binds to calcium, magnesium, zinc, and other important minerals and flushes them out of your body. You also lose sodium and other electrolytes, resulting in not only dehydration, but weakened bones. Research has found a strong link between soda intake and low bone mineral density in women, putting them at significantly higher risk of fractures and osteoporosis. The bottom line—processed sugar harms, and eventually kills. It has absolutely no value, and it should be limited or avoided at all costs. If you get a craving for something sweet, reach for some berries, an apple, or some other whole fruit—the only kind of sugary food I wholeheartedly endorse.
- “How Much Sugar Do You Eat? You May Be Surprised!” New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health Services, August 2014.
- Tucker KL, et al. Colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: the Framingham Osteoporosis study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Oct;84(4):936-42.