Sugar: Curbing the Fatal Attraction

Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD, Dr. Jennifer Landa responds to the recent NY Times article Is Sugar Toxic?

As Gary Taubes points out in the article, we are told that the evidence is inconclusive, but there is still room for concern. He should be afraid — very afraid.  We have met the enemy and the enemy is sugar! Lustig is absolutely right. The evidence provided in the article is irrefutable. Now people are just quibbling over how bad it really is.

Perhaps the only question now is how much sugar does it take to increase our risk of developing conditions and diseases like metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cancer?  As an OB/GYN who practices preventive medicine, the answer is I don’t know. But I don’t want any of my patients to find out the hard way. The bottom line is that sugar does create a sharp increase in the risk of disease, so we want to keep our consumption down to a bare minimum to minimize our overall risk.

One aspect of this whole issue that in my opinion has been carefully avoided in the article is the concept of inflammation. Perhaps the author left out this little tidbit of information to avoid any confusion. Regardless, I think it’s difficult to talk about this issue without discussing the role of inflammation. Inflammation occurs when tissues respond to various stimuli. In the acute situation, inflammation may be helpful as in an acute injury.

The inflammatory response may help destroy, dilute or wall off an injurious agent or injured tissues to protect the rest of the body. On the flip side, in the case of chronic inflammation, the chemicals (cytokines) that are produced by the body are released in higher quantities and when these cytokines attack normal tissues within the body, there are deleterious effects. So what does all of this have to do with sugar?

Well, in the last decade or so, scientists have discovered that fat cells are not dormant fat storage repositories as previously thought to be, but instead are quite active and are constantly producing these inflammatory cytokines. The bottom line is that inflammatory cytokines in the arteries increase the risk of atherosclerosis; in the brain they increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and so on throughout the body’s tissues and cells.

Sugar increases inflammation and inflammation is at the root of almost all diseases.  Sugar is as bad as Lustig says, if not worse. My advice would be to eat as little sugar as possible to keep your health in check.

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