Why sugar harms much more than your waistline

Benenden

Can a crash diet cure diabetes?

For the past five years the media has been speculating about whether a very low-calorie diet, pursued for a limited time, can ‘reset the clock’ for many type 2 diabetics, following a study on 11 diabetic patients in 2011. The initial results were promising, but were based on a very small sample.

A slightly larger trial at Newcastle University recently concluded that the condition can be reversed in some patients — ‘some’ being the operative word — and these findings are now being described as a ‘paradigm shift’ in the understanding of type 2 diabetes, a condition that affects more than 3.5 million people in Britain today.

In the study, led by Professor Roy Taylor, 12 out of 30 participants who followed a 700-calories-a-day diet for two months ended up with their condition reversed. The participants lost an average of two stone during the experiment.

After dramatically cutting their food intake for the initial period, they gradually increased what they were eating to healthy levels, which was equivalent to about two thirds of what they had been eating before they started the experiment.

Although all 30 participants were still overweight at the end of the two months, the significant amount of weight loss, and the speed with which their weight was reduced, caused normal insulin production to start again in more than a third of cases. After six months all the participants had kept the weight off, and all of those whose diabetes had been reversed were still producing insulin on their own.

Once thought to be a lifelong condition, it now appears that, for some sufferers, type 2 diabetes may instead be a reversible metabolic condition.

Sugar depresses children’s immune systems

Children’s delicate immune systems can be upset by eating too much sugar, according to researchers at Columbia University in America. After consuming around 100g of sugar — the amount in a litre bottle of pop — white blood cells can be around 40 per cent less effective at killing germs. The cells perform worst two hours after the sugar is consumed but the effect is still noticeable five hours later.

Although government guidelines say we should eat only 30g of sugar a day in total, or 10 per cent of our calorie intake, children and young people consume on average three times more than that, according to Public Health England. A big part often comes from fizzy drinks; in recent years there has been a steep increase in teenagers turning to high-sugar and caffeine-laced energy drinks.

A high-sugar diet can also increase the risk of children developing type 2 diabetes. According to Public Health England, more than a fifth of four- to five-year-olds are overweight or obese, rising to a third of ten-to-11-year-olds. Described as a ticking time bomb, the annual cost of treating obesity in the UK is currently £5.1 billion.

Sugar on the brain

We often find ourselves reaching for a sweet treat when bored, or as a reward, even though we know a lot of sugar isn’t good for our bodies. But did you also know that your sugar rush could be impairing your mental performance?

Although sugar provides an initial boosts to alertness, after around 20 minutes glucose levels drop, leaving you feeling unfocused and easily distracted. A recent US study also indicated that too much sugar can damage synaptic activity in the brain, impairing communication between brain cells.

The emotional lift provided by sugar is equally brief, often followed by sluggishness, irritability and lack of interest. This is because sugar interferes with the neurotransmitter controlling dopamine production, and knocks our pleasure receptors out of kilter. Sugar also blocks vitamin B and chromium, two chemicals our bodies use to keep our emotions in check. Without them we may give way to outbursts of irritability and aggression.

Sugar is bad news for memory too. It’s now thought it can block memory receptors so we don’t retain information so well; and some researchers point to a possible link between high-sugar diets and Alzheimer’s disease.