“Many the brain’s reward pathway,” neuroscientist Jordan Gaines

“Many Americans eat about five times the amount of sugar they should consume,” Natasa Janicic-Kahric, an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, told The Washington Post. When a person consumes sugar, just like any food, it activates the tongue’s taste receptors. Then, signals are sent to the brain, lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released. Sugar “hijacks the brain’s reward pathway,” neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis explained. And while stimulating the brain’s reward system with a piece of chocolate now and then is pleasurable and probably harmless, when the reward system is activated too much and too frequently, we start to run into problems. “Over-activating this reward system kickstarts a series of unfortunate events loss of control, craving, and increased tolerance to sugar,” neuroscientist Nicole Avena explained in a TED-Ed video. Some problems that can occur in our body are stated below.
Sugar causes blood glucose to spike and plummet.Unstable blood sugar often leads to mood swings, fatigue, headaches and cravings for more sugar. Cravings set the stage for a cycle of addiction in which every new hit of sugar makes you feel better temporarily but, a few hours later, results in more cravings and hunger. On the flip side, those who avoid sugar often report having little or no cravings for sugary things and feeling emotionally balanced and energized.
Sugar increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Large-scale studies have shown that the more high-glycemic foods (those that quickly affect blood sugar), including foods containing sugar, a person consumes, the higher his risk for becoming obese and for developing diabetes and heart disease. Emerging research is also suggesting connections between high-glycemic diets and many different forms of cancer. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and is characterized by uncontrolled growth and multiplication of cells. Insulin is one of the key hormones in regulating this sort of growth. For this reason, many scientists believe that having constantly elevated insulin levels (a consequence of sugar consumption) can contribute to cancer. In addition, the metabolic problems associated with sugar consumption are a known driver of inflammation, another potential cause of cancer. Multiple studies show that people who eat a lot of sugar are at a much higher risk of getting cancer. “Regardless of their Healthy Eating Index scores, people who ate more sugar still had higher cardiovascular mortality,” says Dr. Teresa Fung, adjunct professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Sugar interferes with immune function. Research on human subjects is scant, but animal studies have shown that sugar suppresses immune response. More research is needed to understand the exact mechanisms; however, we do know that bacteria and yeast feed on sugar and that, when these organisms get out of balance in the body, infections and illness are more likely.
A high-sugar diet often results in chromium deficiency. If you consume a lot of sugar and other refined carbohydrates, you probably don’t get enough of the trace mineral chromium, and one of chromium’s main functions is to help regulate blood sugar. Scientists estimate that 90 percent of Americans don’t get enough chromium. Chromium is found in a variety of animal foods, seafood and plant foods. Refining starches and other carbohydrates rob these foods of their chromium supplies.
Sugar accelerates aging. It even contributes to that telltale sign of aging: sagging skin. Some of the sugar you consume, after hitting your bloodstream, ends up attaching itself to proteins, in a process called glycation. These new molecular structures contribute to the loss of elasticity found in aging body tissues, from your skin to your organs and arteries. The more sugar circulating in your blood, the faster this damage takes hold. Sugar-rich and carb-laden foods can also mess with the neurotransmitters that help keep our moods stable. Consuming sugar stimulates the release of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. Constantly over-activating these serotonin pathways can deplete our limited supplies of the neurotransmitter, which can contribute to symptoms of depression, according to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, functional medicine expert and author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working?.
Sugar causes tooth decay. With all the other life-threatening effects of sugar, we sometimes forget the most basic damage it does. When it sits on your teeth, it creates decay more efficiently than any other food substance. For a strong visual reminder, next time the Tooth Fairy visits, try the old tooth in a glass of Coke experiment the results will surely convince you that sugar isn’t good for your pearly whites. “Only 2% of people at all ages living in Nigeria had tooth decay when their diet contained almost no sugar, around 2g per day. This is in stark contrast to the USA, where 92% of adults have experienced tooth decay,” study author Aubrey Sheiham, emeritus professor of Dental Public Health at University College London.
Sugar can cause gum disease, which can lead to heart disease. Increasing evidence shows that chronic infections, such as those that result from periodontal problems, play a role in the development of coronary artery disease. The most popular theory is that the connection is related to widespread effects from the body’s inflammatory response to infection.
Sugar affects behavior and cognition in children. Though it has been confirmed by millions of parents, most researchers have not been able to show the effect of sugar on children’s behavior. A possible problem with the research is that most of it compared the effects of a sugar-sweetened drink to one containing an artificial sweetener. It may be that kids react to both real sugar and sugar substitutes, therefore showing no differences in behavior. What about kids’ ability to learn? Between 1979 and 1983, 803 New York City public schools reduced the amount of sucrose (table sugar) and eliminated artificial colors, flavors and two preservatives from school lunches and breakfasts. The diet policy changes were followed by a 15.7 percent increase in a national academic ranking (previously, the greatest improvement ever seen had been 1.7 percent).
Sugar increases stress. When we’re under stress, our stress hormone levels rise; these chemicals are the body’s fight-or-flight emergency crew, sent out to prepare the body for an attack or an escape. These chemicals are also called into action when blood sugar is low. For example, after a blood-sugar spike (say, from eating a piece of birthday cake), there’s a compensatory dive, which causes the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol. One of the main things these hormones do is raise blood sugar, providing the body with a quick energy boost. The problem is, these helpful hormones can make us feel anxious, irritable and shaky.
Sugar takes the place of important nutrients. According to USDA data, people who consume the most sugar have the lowest intakes of essential nutrients especially vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B12, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Ironically, those who consume the most sugar are children and teenagers, the individuals who need these nutrients most.
Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are by far the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American’s diet. They account for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume as a nation. Other important sources include cookies, cakes, pastries, and similar treats; fruit drinks; ice cream, frozen yogurt and the like; candy; and ready-to-eat cereals.To put that in perspective, a 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar, so quaffing even one a day would put all women and most men over the daily limit. “If you’re going to have something sweet, have a fruit-based dessert,” says Dr. Fung. “That way, at least you’re getting something good out of it.” Of course, plain fruit with no added sugar is ideal.

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