The Medical Detective: Sugar


In the industrialized world, sugar consumption is particularly high during the month of December. Not that it isn’t far too high all year round, and has been so for many decades. In the USA, in one year, the average consumption of sugar is certainly startling. For each man, woman and child it was recorded as 45 kg of refined sugar, plus 300 cans of carbonated soft drink, plus 200 sticks of sugar-containing chewing gum, plus 8 kg of sweets, plus 63 dozen doughnuts, plus 22 kg of cakes and biscuits, plus 91 litres of ice cream, plus whatever gets sneaked into prepared savoury foods [P G Linder. ‘Junk Foods’ and Medical Education, Obes Bar Med, 1982, 11:109]. This excludes other sugar sources such as fruit juice, maple syrup and honey.


What effects does sugar consumption have on the human metabolism? Simple sugars (such as table sugar, orange juice, honey, syrups, fructose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, etc) almost instantly depress the immune system. The ingestion of 100 grams (3 oz) of sugar substantially reduces the capacity of neutrophils to envelope and destroy bacteria. This effect begins half an hour after ingestion and lasts for about five hours. At its most pronounced, there is a 40% reduction in neutrophil activity during the period from 1 hour to 3 hours after having the sugar. Since neutrophils constitute about 65% of the total white blood cells in circulation, shutting down that defensive capability will significantly compromise immune competence for a time, each time sugar is consumed [W Ringsdorf, E Cheraskin & R Ramsay. Sucrose, Neutrophil Phagocytosis and Resistance to Disease, Dent Surv, 1976, 52:46-48]. By contrast, a controlled naturopathic fast during the first 48 hours of an acute infectious illness has been shown to be therapeutically beneficial, since it results in a sizeable (up to 50%) increase in the phagocytic index [A Sanchez, J Reeser, H Lau et al. Role of Sugars inhuman Neutrophilic Phagocytosis, Am J Clin Nutr, 1973, 26:1180-1184]. Note: Such a fast must never be continued for an excessive period and should be undertaken under the supervision of your naturopath.


In a study of about 500 non-diabetic, pregnant adolescent women, the ratio for the delivery of a small-for-gestational-age infant of those in the top 10th percentile of total dietary sugar was double that of the remainder of the group [C M Lenders et al. Gestational Age and Infant Size at Birth are Associated with Dietary Sugar Intake among Pregnant Adolescents, J Nutr, 1997, 127(6):1113-1117].


Apart from the above, and obesity, diabetes, and ‘candida’, sugars have also been clearly implicated in the following seven groups of specific health problems: Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease [S Reif et al. Pre-illness Dietary Factors in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Gut, 1997, 40(6):754-760; and M Pearson et al. Food intolerance and Crohn’s Disease, Gut, 1993, 34:783-787]; Thrombophlebitis and Peripheral Vascular Disease [J Yudkin et al. Sugar Intake, Serum Insulin and Platelet Adhesiveness in Men with and without Peripheral Vascular Disease, Postgrad Med J, 1969, 45:608]; Gastric Cancer [J Cornee et al, A Case-control Study of Gastric Cancer and Nutritional Factors in Marseilles, France, Eur J Epidemiol, 1995, 11:55-65]; Gallstones [R M Ortega et al. Differences in Diet and Food Habits between Patients with Gallstones and Controls, J Am Coll Nutr, 1997, 16(1):88-95]; Kidney and Bladder Stones [N J Blacklock. Sucrose and Idiopathic Renal Stones, Nutr Health, 1987, 5(1/2):9-17]; Elevated Blood Pressure [H G Preuss et al. Effects of High Sugar Diets on Renal Fluid, Electrolyte and Mineral Handling: Relationship to Blood Pressure, J Am Coll Nutr, 1994, 13(1):73-82 ]; Myopia [M Bardiger & A L Stock. The Effects of Sucrose-containing Diets low in Protein on Ocular Refraction in the Rat, Proc Nutr Soc, 1972, 31(1):4A-5A].


All this refers to the effects of simple sugars only, and not to the complex sugars (the carbohydrates).


And finally something positive … In the fairly recent past, French phytotherapeutics researchers reported that betaine, a natural constituent of Beta vulgaris (common Sugar-beet) had a lipid-reducing and an anti-toxic liver function similar to the artichoke. Betaine is white and has a sweetish taste. It acts on the methylation cycle in liver cells, promoting the regeneration of liver cells and converting the triglycerides into transport fat. It is similar to methionine, an amino acid. It has no harmful effects and is well tolerated. Therefore, it may be regarded as a good beet-sugar derived liver remedy. A German proprietary product (‘Flacar’, made by Wilmar Schwabe) contains betaine in combination with natural sorbitol derived from Sorbus acuparia (Rowan berries). Betaine is now also frequently combined with HCl and pepsin for the purpose of gastric acid supplementation in cases of low stomach acid production.

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