You've known for years that too much sugar is bad for your health, and science keeps confirming that fact with studies which show how many areas of our health are harmed. It seems that not a single organ remains unaffected.
The latest research, published in the Journal of Hepatology, found that fructose, a form of simple sugar that is processed into a refined sugar, is contributing to the increase of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in adolescents and children.
NAFLD is the accumulation of extra fat in liver cells in people who drink little or no alcohol, and it is recognized as the fastest growing cause of liver disease in both Western and developing countries. It is estimated to affect up to 30 percent of the general population in Western countries, and up to 9.6 percent of all children and 38 percent of obese children.
Liver disease can progress to severe fibrosis and cirrhosis, and can also develop into deadly liver cancer.
Sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, which is used in many processed foods and drinks, has been linked to an increase in obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in adults.
A study from UCLA found that people who drank at least one soda a day increased their risk of being overweight by 27 percent when compared to those who didn't drink sodas. In California, a direct correlation can be seen between the increase in the size of an average soda and an increase in obesity: The average size of a soda increased from 6.5 ounces in the 1950s to an average of 16 ounces today, and the obesity rates have risen from 8.9 percent to 24.3 percent during the past 25 years.
Instead of satisfying your sweet tooth, eating sugar may only incite you to eat more. A recent study found that eating foods containing fructose doesn't produce satiety — the sensation of fullness — but instead triggers activity in the brain that encourages a person to eat even more.
The study, which was from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, found that eating fructose produces fewer satiety hormones than glucose, which is the body's main source of energy and is produced when complex carbohydrates are broken down in the body.
Researchers at the University of Southern California found that volunteers who drank a fructose drink reported greater hunger than those who consumed a glucose drink. At the same time, MRIs showed greater activity in the reward centers of the brain when shown photos of high-fat foods. The heightened activity provoked an increased motivation to eat.
Researchers suggest that the high amounts of fructose in the form of high-fructose corn syrup that is added to hundreds of foods and beverages affect the area of the brain that helps control appetite and the urge to eat.
The link between sugar and diabetes is strong. The Nurses' Health Study, which followed more than 90,000 women for eight years, found that those who drank at least one sugar-sweetened drink each day were almost twice as likely to have developed Type 2 diabetes as those who rarely drank sweetened beverages. Researchers believe that high-fructose corn syrup may initiate a string of events in the body that leads to diabetes.
The danger may begin even before birth. A study from the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine found that feeding pregnant mice a diet high in fructose had a lasting effect on the health of their pups.
A randomized, placebo-controlled study gave pregnant mice either a fructose solution or water as the only liquid throughout their pregnancy. After birth, their offspring were given regular chow and evaluated after one year. The offspring born to mothers who drank the fructose solution were found to have higher concentrations of glucose when compared with controls.
Female offspring from the fructose group were heavier and had a higher percent of visceral adipose tissue — fat tissue stored in the abdominal cavity that is associated with insulin resistance — and higher amounts of fat in the liver as well as other chemicals that influence appetite and how the body regulates sugar and appetite.
"Through this study, we know that consuming high fructose during pregnancy puts the child at future risk for a variety of health conditions including obesity and the many complications it causes," said lead researcher Dr. Antonio Saad of the University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston.
A diet high in sugar can also damage your brain. Researchers at the University of California gave rats fructose-spiked water in the human equivalent of a quart of soft drink a day. After six weeks, rats who drank the sugar water took twice as long to escape from a maze they had been trained to navigate as rats given only pure water.
Sugar is definitely bad for your heart. Drinking a single sugar-sweetened drink daily increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent, according to Harvard researchers. Scientists at the University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center found that diets high in high-fructose corn syrup increased the risk of developing high blood pressure by up to 87 percent.
Sugar also raises cholesterol levels: A study published in Circulation found that people who drank one or more soft drinks each day were 25 percent more likely to develop high blood triglycerides and 32 percent more likely to have low levels of "good" cholesterol.
There is good news, however. It may not be too late to reverse some of the damage caused by sugar. Eliminating sugar improves heart health in as few as nine days. A study published in the journal Atherosclerosis found that when the amount of sugar in the diets of obese children was lowered from 28 percent to 10 percent, triglycerides dropped 33 percent and a key protein called ApoC-III dropped by 49 percent. Both are risk factors for heart disease in adulthood.
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