The media continues to warn the public regarding obesity, diabetes, and heart disease as caused by sugar but may have failed to warn of the harmful role sugar plays in the aching pains of inflammation. Populations are becoming aware of the sugar-heavy foods they eat from soda to starch, but the magnitude to which the sweet market has grown, the effects besides weight-gain it has on the body, and specifically how sugar affects inflammation in the body remains largely ignored.
A Sweet Market
Sugar consumption has risen throughout the world, as shown in a study done by the international research institute of SUCDN reveals a 49% increase in the worldwide consumption of sugar since 1980 alone.1 Experts warn the amount of consumed sugar is becoming dangerously high. Joan Salge Blake who holds a Masters in Nutrition & Dietetics states, “Americans, on average, are consuming 22 teaspoons of added sugar daily, the equivalent of 350 calories. That’s over 8,000 teaspoons annually!”2
The Sour Truth
The fanatically increasing use of sugar has seen an according increase of diseases such as obesity, heart-disease, and diabetes among other conditions. According to the World Health Organization, the number of obese adults has more than doubled since 1980 with 52% of adults around the world either overweight or obese.2 The dangers of sugar are not new; it has been known to cause increased weight gain for decades, if not centuries. These diseases have been well advertised by the media in recent years even as they become increasingly serious, though this unfortunately cannot be said for all of the effects of sugar.
Aching Sugar Tooth
Sugar’s effect on weight gain may be well-known, but its effect on inflammation throughout the body is not. Less publicized studies reveal that one’s waistline may not be the only thing to swell with a sugary diet. Health specialists including Catherine Guthrie, a long-time health journalist and recipient of an Honorable Mention for the Betty Gabehart Prize in Nonfiction, warns “When it comes to evaluating sugar’s negative health impacts, the threat of extra pudge is just the beginning. Even great health threats—including inflammation-based diseases—may lurk at the bottom of the sugar bowl.”3 Such diseases can cause painful, aching inflammation and swelling which is often mistaken as arthritis, gout, or other aches and pains. Moreover, sugar will aggravate conditions such as sciatica that are characterized by inflammation.
The Science Behind the Struggle
Inflammation is caused when excess sugars from refined carbohydrates and fatty or overcooked foods enter the body. As the body tries to manage the sugar by bonding proteins to glucose molecules, particles called advanced glycation end products (AGES) are developed. As AGES’s are formed, proteins are ripped apart and spliced to form molecules which the body cannot recognize.
As unrecognizable intruders, these molecules are treated as harmful, causing the immune system to release vast quantities of specialized proteins called cytokines to combat the unknown particles.3 Huge volumes of these proteins result in concentrated areas, exerting pressure against the surrounding muscle to create the all-too-familiar sense of pain and achiness.
Combating The Crisis
Inflamed joints, pain, and sore muscles can seem too consistent of a problem to fix, but experts disagree. Because AGES’s are primarily formed when the body is forced to process tremendous amounts of sugar, healthcare specialists recommend a simple modification to the average diet to solve the problem that has been widely considered inevitable. Lorna Vanderhaeghe, health specialist for almost ten years and recipient of the Canadian Health and Food Associate Hall of Fame Award, simply recommends, “Eat at least six servings of vegetables and one serving of fruit every day.”
These are foods that have a low rating on the glycemic index – meaning the body takes longer to break them down into blood glucose – and are the best choices for reducing inflammation.”3
Combating the crisis of aching joints may be solved more easily than expected: less inflammation-causing sugar and more fruits and vegetables. In addition, you should include anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, such as turmeric and fish oil.
Hopefully as greater understanding of the science behind sugar-based inflammation becomes more known, people will be more inclined to reduce their intake of sugar – their stomach and their aching joints will thank them.
1 “World Sugar Consumption,” Sucdn, n.d. 15 May 2017.
2 Joan Salge Blake, “How Much Sugar Does the Average Person Consume Each Year?” Sharecare Inc. n.d. 15 May, 2017.
3 “Obesity and Overweight,” World Health Organization, Jun. 2016, 15 May 2017.
4 Lorna Vanderhaeghe, “Causes of Chronic Inflammation,” Health and Immunity, n.d. 15 May 2017.