The unsavoury impact of sugar on your body
Most of us have a sense that we shouldn't eat too much sugar, but what is it actually doing to you? We look at the journey that sugar takes around your body, and find out how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
The sugar journey
When a sugary food or drink passes through your mouth, your brain immediately registers the sugar. Your body doesn’t need to break down this source of glucose in the way that it does for say, grains or pulses, so the sugar enters your bloodstream and releases its energy more quickly. This can produce an instant energy boost that some people describe as a ‘rush’1. It also triggers your pancreas to produce insulin, which controls levels of sugar in your blood2.
During digestion, the sugar travels through the portal vein – which moves blood from the spleen and gastrointestinal tract – to the liver. After delivering any energy needed there, it continues around the rest of the body3, and any spare energy is stored in the muscles and fat so it can be used when reserves are low.
It’s an efficient process, which, if you eat a healthy diet and take plenty of exercise, should produce a happy equilibrium.
So what is the issue?
Well, if your diet is persistently high in sugar, problems can start to arise. Let’s look more closely at how sugar affects the body:
- Teeth: As soon as sugar enters your mouth, the bacteria in your mouth start producing acid, which can cause tooth decay4.
- Brain: Sugar sustains you for less time than a slower-releasing energy source such as nuts or protein. Some people describe experiencing an energy dip after eating sugar: a lethargic feeling that may make you less active, drink excess caffeine, or crave more sugar5.
- Insulin: Your pancreas reacts to sugar by releasing insulin to regulate your blood sugars. But if this happens too often, your body stops reacting to the insulin6. Insulin is also disrupted by chemical and hormonal changes in obesity – particularly by fat cells around the abdomen area7. As insulin becomes less effective, glucose starts building up in the blood, which if left unchecked, can lead to diabetes8.
- Fat levels: A high-sugar diet is an all-too easy way for your body to regularly take in more energy than it expends, which can lead to obesity. This, in turn, is linked to a whole range of illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and some types of cancer9.
“If your diet is persistently high in sugars – increasingly common in modern life – your insulin levels will be spiking frequently,” explains Bupa Global Medical Director Dr Amit Sethi.