Sugar is one of the most health-damaging substances you can possibly eat, yet this ingredient is abundant in many foods, including most processed and packaged foods — even non-dessert foods. High sugar intake is primarily associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes, but is also linked to a number of other serious health risks such as cancer and heart disease. Understanding the dangers of sugar can motivate you to steer clear of this ingredient, or significantly lower your intake to improve your overall health.
Following are some of the health risks associated with consuming excess sugar:
- Lowered immunity. Sugar intake causes bacteria and yeast in your body to grow and multiply, which increases the risk for illness and disease. Those who consume high amounts of sugar are more likely to fall prey to illnesses such as the common cold and flu, and may experience lack of energy and fatigue on a regular basis.
- Poor oral health. Since bacteria thrives on sugar, tooth decay and gum disease are more common in those who consume high amounts of sugar. Gum disease can lead to receding gums and tooth loss, and increases the risk of heart disease.
- Nutritional deficiency. Sugar intake often replaces the intake of other important nutrients your body needs to maintain a healthy balance and function optimally. Neglecting to supply your body with the daily recommended amount of vitamins and nutrients increases your risk of nutritional deficiency and other serious health complications.
- Liver problems. Your liver can metabolize fructose only in small amounts — meaning an excess amount of sugar can overload your liver and eventually lead to liver failure. Liver problems are more common in those who consume high amounts of sugar and remain inactive.
- Insulin resistance. The more sugar you eat, the more your body and cells become resistant to insulin. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
- Higher cancer risk. Maintaining high insulin levels increases inflammation throughout the body, which can damage cells and DNA. These damaged, abnormal cells grow and multiply at an accelerated rate, and increase the risk of various cancers.
- Irritability and fatigue. High amounts of sugar will spike your energy levels and give you a temporary, short-lived burst of energy followed by a sugar crash. During a sugar crash, you may experience severe mood swings, headaches, and fatigue. A healthy, balanced diet can help eliminate sugar cravings and feelings of low energy.
- Accelerated aging. Sugar affects the elasticity of your skin — leading to signs of premature aging such as wrinkles and sagging skin. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods can promote elastin production, and lead to healthier, brighter, younger-looking skin.
- Cognition and behavior problems. Since sugar upsets your body’s natural hormonal balance, excess sugar intake can lead to memory and behavior problems — especially in young children.
- Increased blood pressure and cholesterol. Excess sugar intake increases your blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels due to the way this substance interferes with your metabolism. Other symptoms of metabolic syndrome include weight gain and elevated triglycerides.
Lowering your sugar intake is one of the best decisions you can make for your health. When you do consume sugar, do so in moderation, and opt for natural sugars instead of refined, processed sugars. For instance, use honey or Stevia to sweeten foods, and avoid consuming sugars in the form of candies, pastries, and other processed foods.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on June 23, 2017