Snack on chocolate chip cookies every day and you will ruin your teeth. Feast on melt-in-your-mouth munchies after every meal and you'll soon be addicted. We already know that. What we did discover is the other shocking stuff that bingeing on sugar can do. "Excess sugar intake throws your body's homoeostasis (equilibrium) off kilter, suppresses your immunity, upsets your body's mineral balance, causes hyperactivity and many problems that we have never associated with sweet sugar," says author Nancy Appleton, Ph.D., in Lick The Sugar Habit.
What's scary is that you can't just blame the ladoo—sugar appears in almost all that we eat. "Added sugars can be found in everything from soda to salad dressing and even in seemingly healthy foods. In fact, there is just too much sugar in diets these days, and this is true even if you don't have a sweet tooth. This is silently pushing us towards many health problems," warns Dr Ambrish Mittal, senior endocrinologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi.
Simple sugars can be deadly too. They can induce asthma, personality changes, nervous disorders, heart diseases, gallstones, pancreas damage, hypertension, arthritis, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, headaches, indigestion, and even contribute to Alzheimer's disease. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with having moderate amounts of the sweet stuff in your diet, what you need to worry about is how fast it adds up.
Cosmo called in the experts to ID some of the most threatening conditions sugar can bring upon and decided to warn you before the revenge got too sweet.
The term 'overweight' denotes excessive body weight relative to height. The most common medical assessment of obesity is body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated based on your body weight (measured in kilograms) divided by your height (measured in metres). A person is considered overweight if they have a BMI of 25-29.9. A person with a BMI greater than 30 is classified as being 'obese'.
Sugar stakes: The added sugar in your diet not only adds inches to your waistline, it also produces insulin that, in large amounts, keeps weight from coming off—in spite of a strict diet and exercise. Also, when you consume sweets in excess, the blood sugar levels jump violently, and the body pumps massive amounts of insulin into your bloodstream. This then causes an overshoot, making your blood sugar levels bottom out, triggering an increase in appetite, leading to a vicious cycle of overeating.
In fact, sugar is often compared to an addictive drug rather than a nutrient—as it can leave you craving for more instead of making you satiated.
Tackle-it tip: "Obesity should be dealt with head on. The earlier you start the better," says Dr Shikha Sharma, weight loss consultant. Know the ideal weight for your height and work consciously to stick to it.
If there is excess sugar in your blood, your body will try to produce more insulin to transfer it to your cells. As this cycle continues, an insulin resistance develops. And when your pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to push the sugar into your cells, the result is diabetes.
Sugar stakes: Though genetic factors play a huge role in diabetes, a high-sugar diet can also stimulate an abnormal pancreatic insulin response in order to moderate blood sugar levels. So, even if sugar does not directly create the disease, a constantly high intake over-stimulates and can 'burn out' a normal, healthy pancreas and adrenal function, explains Dr Mittal.
"Years of eating processed food and experiencing constant blasts of insulin can actually exhaust your pancreas' ability to produce insulin, putting you at risk for diabetes," agrees Dr Walter Willet, M.D., chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, US. Plus, being overweight (for which excess sugar is directly indicative) can also lead to high blood sugar levels.
What's also significant is that diabetes no longer hits you only in your 40s. Juvenile diabetes has been on the rise the world over. In the US alone, cases among 30-somethings have jumped by 76 per cent in the last 10 years or so.
Tackle-it tip: Firstly, always be on guard if you have a family history of diabetes. The good news is if you have pre-diabetes (blood glucose higher than normal but lower than the diabetes range), you can reduce the risk of getting the disorder and even return to normal blood glucose levels by simply making some lifestyle changes. So, have your blood glucose checked every couple of years.
Research says that young women are also becoming prone to heart attacks. "In fact, there is a strong link between diabetes and heart disease," says Dr Alison Schecter, assistant professor of cardiology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, US.
Sugar stakes: "The real villain in heart disease is sugar. It causes high insulin, and high insulin triggers the adrenergic roller-coaster, and that causes the spasm of coronary arteries, which is the beginning of acute heart problems," says Dr Majid Ali, specialist in immune therapy and environmental medicine, and president of the American Academy of Preventive Medicine, on www.consumerhealth.org.
In fact, as early as in the '40s and '50s, researchers Yudkin and Lopez had discovered a link between consumption of refined sugar and heart disease. "Sugar consumption lowers the body's resistance to bacteria, viruses, and yeasts that may cause inflammation in the heart and the arteries," they wrote. Plus, excess sugar leads to deficiencies in Vitamin-B complex, needed for healthy arteries. Sugar also reduces the helpful high-density cholesterol, and promotes an elevation of the harmful low density cholesterol.
Tackle-it tip: "It is never too early to start taking good care of your heart," advises Dr Subhash Chandra, cardiologist at Apollo Hospital, Delhi. According to Dr Schecter, with early diagnosis, women can control their blood sugar levels and minimise their risk of heart disease.
Awful Adult Acne And Premature Wrinkling
"Acne is not just a teen problem, and wrinkles not only an old-age issue. Thanks to our faulty eating habits, adult acne and early wrinkles are becoming increasingly common," observes Dr Vinod Jaitly, dermatologist at Jeevan Hospital, Delhi.
Sugar stakes: Ann Louise Gittleman, M.S., author of The Living Beauty Detox Program, writes that refined sugar has no nutritional value and the body needs to use its own mineral reserves—including important skin nutrients such as chromium and zinc—to digest it. "Dietary sugars have been observed to mess with the symmetry of your skin cells, which leads to increased folding, causing wrinkles and general ageing of the skin. Keeping your diet low in fat and sugar keeps the digestive tract moving, so wastes that your system can't handle do not burden your skin. Besides, eating healthier foods ensures that your skin gets the nutrients it needs," adds Dr Jaitly.
Tackle-it tip: "Adjust your diet, and stick to it strictly. Eat lots of fresh fruits and salads, and include tomatoes, avocados and virgin olive oil in your plate of greens. In between meals, drink water to help your body flush out toxins," advises Dr Sharma.
Pesky Panic Attacks
If like Umang Sahay, 32, you suddenly feel spacey, with a strange tingling sensation in your fingers, a crushing chest pain, and a sense of imminent danger, you might be experiencing a panic attack.
Sugar stakes: When Umang was rushed to the emergency room, it certainly looked like she was having a heart attack. But after examining her and performing an electrocardiogram, the docs concurred that she had just had an anxiety attack. "This kind of a panic attack is related to stress and faulty dietary habits including consumption of too much sugar," says Dr Ashima Puri, resident psychologist at Aashlok Hospital, Delhi.
"Eating foods high in refined sugar increases the lactate level in the blood, and may induce panic in susceptible persons," writes Dr Ronald Hoffman, medical director of the Hoffman Centre in New York City, on www.consciouschoice.com. Excess sugar can't by itself set off a panic attack, but what it may do is destabilise brain activity so that anxiety ultimately reaches meltdown proportions.
Tackle-it tip: "If you are leading a highly stressful life, it is that much more important for you to control or modify your diet plan and eliminate all stress-inducing factors like sugar. Dietary devils are the simplest to deal with, as they just need a change in your meal constituents," says Pallavi Vaish, dietician at Healing Touch Clinic, Delhi.
Dental caries is decay of the teeth, which results in cavities, or holes in your set. Bacteria in the mouth, eating sugar and a susceptible tooth surface are all factors that act together to cause dental caries. Symptoms include discoloured marks on the teeth and severe toothache.
Sugar stakes: Sugar, particularly sucrose, is the chief dietary cause of caries. Both the frequency and the total consumption of sweets impact your oral health negatively. "Bacteria thrives on sugar and an acidic environment, and the more sugar you consume, the more the acid formation, and thus the more the bacteria. Conversely, the more the bacteria, the more the acid produced. So, it is a vicious cycle. You create an environment that turns increasingly destructive with time. "Saliva has the ability to neutralise acid, but it takes the saliva as much as 20 minutes to do this," says dentist Dr Vineeta Chugh.
Tackle-it tip: Fluoride, particularly in toothpastes, is a very important preventive agent against dental caries. Brushing your teeth with fluoride-free toothpaste has little effect on caries. "The main strategy to reduce the level of caries should be reducing the frequency of sugar intake in your diet," advises Dr Chugh.
Immune System Bummer
Your immune system is often a casualty of a faulty lifestyle. Low immunity creates amino-acid deficiency and a decrease in your white blood cell count. This, in turn, leads to lower resistance to colds, flu, and other infectious diseases.
Sugar stakes: The American Dietetic Association agrees that sugar consumption is one of the major causes of degenerative diseases. This 'quintessential anti-nutrient' contains no vitamins or minerals. Rather, it is 100 per cent carbohydrate, so it must be immediately metabolised. And the energy required to do this depletes our body of vital nutrients, and has a deteriorating effect on the immune system.
The refining process of sugar removes the natural nutrients present in sugarcane. So, the digestion of sugar uses up many of your body's precious resources. Vitamin C, chromium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and B Vitamins are all needed to digest sugar. So, that gooey sundae can actually result in a vitamin and mineral deficiency. Sugar also increases magnesium and calcium excretion in urine, and decreases magnesium absorption.
Tackle-it tip: Moderation is the only way to go. Remember that sugar not just adds nutritionally useless calories, but it can also become a potent tool in breaking down your immune system and causing severe deficiencies in your body.
Hypoglycaemia is a condition of abnormal sugar metabolism resulting in low blood sugar. Signs to look out for: weakness, excessive sweating, changes in your heartbeat and unusual hunger pangs.
Sugar stakes: Strangely, you can get low blood sugar by ODing on sugar or refined carbohydrates. Sugar is rapidly absorbed, and your body reacts with an outpouring of insulin, which then causes your blood sugar to go down. Fine-tuning this with just the right amount of insulin can be difficult—if your blood sugar drops too low, your body reacts by pouring out growth hormones like adrenaline to push it back up. This can cause a further release of insulin and the seesawing process continues until your body finds its balance. Your adrenaline output can cause a jittery, anxious feeling. And when your blood sugar levels dip, it can also cause fatigue, says Dr Mittal.
Tackle-it tip: In the short-term, if you experience these symptoms, pop some chocolates, fruit juice, sugar or honey right away. But for the long-term, eliminate sugar, fruit juices, white flour products, and alcohol from your diet altogether. Also, decrease your caffeine consumption, and vary your meals to create the right combo of proteins, carbs and fats.