The Problems With Sugar

Sugar has been blamed for nearly every known disease and even for the fall of several empires. While those accusations may sound like exaggerations, they probably are closer to the truth than you realize.

Saying sugar is bad for you is the ultimate understatement. The far-reaching problems sugar can cause are well documented in medical journals throughout the world, and new sugar-disease connections are made each year.

Even as far back as the late 1960s and early 1970s––before I received my master’s degree in nutrition––nutritional pioneers such as Adelle Davis, Carlton Fredericks, Dr. Herman Goodman, Dr. T. L. Cleave, and Dr. John Yudkin were already warning the public about the dangers of eating too much refined sugar. Twenty years earlier, E. M. Abrahamson, M.D., and A. W. Pezet wrote about the insulin connection to disease, the result of too much sugar in the diet.
This information, a basic part of my nutrition training, never found its way to the American public. It got lost in the 1980s amidst the outcries that all fat was bad. Americans ended up blaming fat for their health problems instead of sugar, and since then, the health problems of Americans have not lessened but have, in fact, worsened.

Take, for example, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes––the three leading disease killers in the United States today. Although the media have presented dietary fat as the villain in the development of these diseases, sugar appears to be the real culprit.

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE The sugar connection to coronary-artery and heart disease was noticed in the 1970s. In the classic study The Saccharine Disease (Keats Publishing, 1975), surgeon Capt. T. L. Cleave showed convincing evidence that increases in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other common diseases could be traced to increases in sugar and refined-carbohydrate intake. These diseases were virtually nonexistent in primitive cultures, he noted, until about twenty years after the societies began eating refined carbohydrates.

British researcher John Yudkin, M.D., came to a similar conclusion. In his classic book Sweet and Dangerous (Wyden Books, 1972), Dr. Yudkin cited numerous examples in a variety of societies that showed that sugar was a more likely cause of heart disease than fat. For example, the Masai and Sumburu tribes of East Africa, he explained, have almost no heart disease, yet they eat a high-fat diet of mostly meat and milk but no sugar.

Recent research is proving the validity of the theories posed by Drs. Cleave and Yudkin, showing a direct relationship between sugar and heart disease because of insulin. Remember that when sugar is eaten, insulin is produced. Insulin not only helps to store excess sugar as fat (as explained before), but also helps regulate blood triglyceride levels, which are a major predictor of the development of heart disease. The more sugar you eat, the more insulin your pancreas will produce, and the higher your triglyceride levels are likely to be.

ADULT-ONSET DIABETES Adult-onset diabetes, also known as type II diabetes, is another degenerative disease that has increased in frequency as sugar consumption has increased. Sugar’s connection to this disease seems clear: During World War II, when sugar consumption in the United States dropped, the number of cases of adult-onset diabetes also dropped sharply.

This form of diabetes accounts for 98 percent of all the diabetes cases in America today and is considered to be almost entirely diet-related. It develops when insulin receptors in the cells no longer respond to the insulin being produced by the pancreas, and the cells are less able to get energy from the food we eat. Excess calories are then converted to fat, and numerous serious health complications can develop. Most health professionals agree that too many sugars and refined carbohydrates are at least a major contributing factor in the disease.

HYPOGLYCEMIA Though diabetes is caused by high blood sugar, hypoglycemia is low blood sugar, a condition that often precedes the development of adult-onset diabetes. In hypoglycemia, the pancreas reacts to excess processed carbohydrates in the diet by sending out so much insulin that blood sugar drops too low, resulting in fatigue, lack of concentration, anxiety, moods swings, and irritability. Several health professionals, such as research psychologist Alexander Schauss, Ph.D., believe that alcoholics and drug addicts start out as hypoglycemics first and that hypoglycemia can also lead to criminal activity. Since almost all Americans eat too much sugar, many nutritionists think that most Americans are on an almost certain collision course with this disease.

AGING I have already discussed how excess sugar raises insulin levels that in turn speed up the process of cell division in relation to cancer and elevated cancer-risk.   High insulin levels also negatively impact aging and life span.  If you consider that, in theory, each of your cells is programmed to divide a finite (limited) number of times, with each division bringing the cell closer to death, then it is easy to understand why speeding up cell division speeds up aging.  Eating sugar and sugar’s kissing cousins is like pushing a fast forward button on cellular age. 

Just as we begin to understand that free radicals can deteriorate cells, scientists have confirmed that one of the most profound instruments of aging is a newly recognized aging byproduct called Advanced Glycation Endproducts or AGEs.  AGEs are the result of a complicated chemical reaction involving the cross-linking of sugar and protein (which builds your tissue and organs). This effect has been described as ‘browning’ because of the analogy between the AGE process and the browning effect that happens to the skin of a cooked turkey or chicken as the heated sugar becomes cross-linked with the heated protein. 

High levels of glucose have been shown to increase the production of both AGEs and free radicals while excessive amounts of fructose increase production even more.  Simply put, sugar can make you old before your time because the more sugar you consume, the more sugar your body must metabolize and the more destructive byproducts are produced.

OBESITY When High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS became commonplace in the late 1970’s, the obesity levels began to soar.  While the government has been offering subsidies to corn growers and there has been a savings of millions of dollars from the use of this cheaper sweetener, there has been a 100 percent increase in the rate of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents.
HFCS is a manmade cheap versatile super-sweet version of sucrose (a.k.a table sugar).  

The problem is that it has introduced a new refined version of fructose into the public food source at a higher ratio. While sucrose is 50% fructose and 50% glucose, HFCS is formed by adding specific enzymes to corn syrup in order to turn the high glucose corn syrup into a 90% fructose product (HFCS 90). Then glucose is blended back in to get the desired glucose fructose blend – usually 55% glucose and 42% glucose (6% polysaccharide).  Plus many filtration, ion-exchange, and evaporation steps plus carbon adsorption (for removing impurities) are part of the process.  Your body is not designed for high levels of refined fructose. 

HFCS appears to affect our bodies differently than table sugar (sucrose).  Every cell in your body can metabolize glucose while the liver must metabolize fructose so important appetite controls are bypassed. Unlike glucose, the fructose in HFCS is quickly absorbed into your cells without the help of insulin and without the subsequent increase in leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite by signaling to your brain that you are full.  Add to this that the insulin produced during glucose metabolism suppresses a hormone produced by the stomach to regulate food uptake called ghrelin – this acting is missing with fructose metabolism.  You stay hungry and keep eating. 

Plus fructose is metabolized differently by the liver than glucose; in fact it is metabolized by a biochemical pathway in the liver that more easily leads to accumulation of body fat.  So over time the cumulative of even a small increase in fructose combined with increased consumption adds up and adds pounds.

Similarly and to add insult to injury, a study out of Perdue University offers support for the theory that artificial sweeteners increase caloric intake.*  An unfortunate effect that these super sweet sugar substitutes are having on our bodies is a loss in our natural ability to ‘count’ calories.  Our bodies spent thousands of years developing the natural ability to estimate caloric intake based on sweetness level.  By introducing highly sweet products that lack expected calories, we have disrupted this natural control mechanism.  

Consider that naturally sweet fruits offer small amounts of fructose balanced with fiber and other protective nutrients that slow absorption and improve metabolism.  It is no wonder that obesity rates have skyrocket since the manmade sugars found to disrupt natural appetite controls are so readily available.

(Footnote:  *Davidson, T. L., Swithers, S. E.  A Pavlovian approach to the problem of obesity.  International Journal of Obesity (2004) 28, 933-935.)

For more information pick up a copy of Get The Sugar Out,  by Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD., CNS.  I also recommend trying The Weight Loss Formula which contains 400 mg of

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Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman

Visionary, health guru, diet/detox expert, and natural foods icon Ann Louise Gittleman is the award-winning author of 30 books on health and healing including the New York Times bestsellers The Fat Flush Plan and Before The Change. Her most recent release is The Gut Flush Plan.

For the past two decades she has been considered one of the foremost nutritionist in the United States.  

A regular contributor to national television and radio, visit her at  You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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  1. Anthony says

    I remember leafing through a copy of Doctor Atkins New Diet Revolution. He listed 4 studies showing a strong connection between high insulin and heart disease.

    Consider our ancestors. The oldest stone tools that human ancestors used are 2.5 million years old. So our ancestors have been eating meat for at least that long. You don’t need stone tools to skin a peach.

    Our ancestors have been eating meat for possibly as long as 8 million years. (The fossil evidence is slim between 8 and 6 million years ago. They may have survived by eating clams and other animals that could be gathered on the shores of large lakes.)

    They ate very little sugar. Just fruit and honey on occasion. So the insulin response is designed for very small amounts of fruit sugars and honey. But now people are eating and drinking an average of 180 pounds of sugar a year! Far more than a cro-magnon man would ever see. All that sugar sends insulin levels soaring, which converts the sugar into triglycerides, a type of fat, pulls minerals out of the bones, and damages the arteries, leading to heart disease.

    Sugar is refined in much the same way that cocaine is refined. From 1864 until 1913, cocaine was legal in America. For most of that time, it was considered a harmless pick me up, like coffee. Mark Twain wrote, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

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