Sugar and refined carbohydrates are undeniably linked to diabetes. Researchers around the world have come to the conclusion that the consumption of refined sugar is detrimental to the health of people without diabetes and disastrous for those with it. Furthermore, excess sugar in the blood can cause the onset of type 2 diabetes. First, however, what exactly is diabetes?
According to Bruce Fife ND, "Diabetes is all about sugar -- the sugar in our bodies known as blood sugar or blood glucose. Every cell in our bodies must have a constant source of glucose in order to fuel metabolism. Our cells use glucose to power processes such as growth and repair. When we eat a meal the digestive system converts much of our food into glucose, which is released into the bloodstream. The hormone insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas gland, moves glucose from the blood and funnels it into the cells so it can be used as fuel. If the cells are unable to get adequate amounts of glucose, they can literally starve to death. As they do, tissues and organs begin to degenerate. This is what happens in diabetes."
Obesity largely contributes to the inability of cells to obtain sufficient amounts of glucose, according to "Green Tea" author Nadine Taylor. Taylor writes that too many fat cells crowd the other cells in the body and make it difficult for insulin to reach its destination. According to Ralph T. Golan, 90 percent of type 2 diabetes sufferers are obese, a result directly linked to poor dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle. Michael Castleman, author of "Blended Medicine," says, "Type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with a lack of exercise and a poor diet -- one that's low in fiber and high in sugar, fat and animal products. It develops slowly, usually over several years, and rarely produces dramatic symptoms. For this reason, many people with type 2 diabetes have no idea that they are sick. In fact, the American Diabetes Association estimates that only half of Americans with type 2 diabetes have been diagnosed."
Sugar is so detrimental to human health that many believe it would fail the FDA approval process if such a hypothetical attempt were made. Refined white flour would fare no better. Both are nutritionally empty substances. According to Dr. Robert C. Atkins, founder of the popular Atkins diet, "Sugar has no nutritional value and is directly harmful to your health. Despite vociferous attempts to defend it, there are studies that clearly show how harmful (and even deadly in the case of diabetics) its effects can be." According to Nancy Appleton, PhD, author of "Lick the Sugar Habit," there are 78 metabolic consequences of consuming sugar. Since the Life Extension Foundation estimates that the average American consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar per year, those 78 metabolic consequences can be considerable.
Phyllis A. Balch, author of "Prescription for Dietary Wellness," says this excessive consumption of sugar, especially by today's youth, has experts calling the recent dramatic rise in type 2 diabetes among adolescents an "emerging epidemic." In Balch's book, sports nutritionist Bill Misner says that sugar is "devoid of vitamins, minerals and fiber." Furthermore, as a result of its deterioration of the endocrine system, "major researchers and major health organizations agree that sugar consumption in America is one of the three major causes of degenerative disease."
This is not surprising, considering that 150 pounds of sugar per year breaks down to the intake of 550 to 650 calories a day in sugar alone, according to Balch. In fact, the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter states that Americans spent $21 billion on candy alone in 2001, which is more than the gross national products of Lithuania, Costa Rica, and Mozambique combined. That amount of money can buy unimaginable amounts of sugar, which in turn does unimaginable harm to the people who consume it.
Balch goes on to say, "One in twenty of the world's adult population now has some form of diabetes, a disease associated with obesity, poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. More than half of American adults are overweight. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relates that the incidence of Type 2 diabetes has risen by 33 percent in the past decade and three out of every 50 American adults currently have this diet-related condition. Complications related to diabetes are the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States."
Diabetes, however, is really only one of the numerous consequences of over-consuming sugar. Dr. John Yudkin, a leading authority on dietary sugars, says that the detrimental effects of excess sugar in the diet go far beyond rotting teeth and obesity. "For example," Yudkin says, "Sugar causes irregularities in the insulin response; Sugar causes diabetes-like damage to the kidneys; it contributes to degeneration of the retina; it raises blood fat levels and it increases the stickiness of the blood platelets, a common precursor of heart trouble."
"Alternative Cures" author Bill Gottlieb writes, "Excess sugar in the blood damages the arteries and veins and can lead to fatal heart disease and stroke. The death rate for middle-aged people with type 2 diabetes is twice that of middle-aged people who do not have it." Gottlieb adds, "The glut of sugar can also cause kidney disease, eye problems, and severe nerve damage to the lower limbs and other parts of the body."
Heart and kidney diseases indicate a weakened immune system, which is damaged by excessive sugar intake. The damage doesn't stop at the immune system. The negative effects of a sugar-filled diet spread to the nervous system as well. "Food Swings" author Barnet Meltzer says, "White refined sugar is also a culprit in everything from common colds and flu, bronchitis, sinus infections and digestive difficulties to breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease and Candida. By weakening the immune system, it increases the risk of degenerative illnesses and infections. In addition to imbalancing the pancreas and liver, it also attacks the central nervous system. It kills brain cells."
While heart trouble, kidney disease, and the flu are bad enough conditions to suffer through, far more dire consequences await diabetics who do nothing to control their disease. "Fat Land" author Greg Crister explains, "The obese diabetic may first notice strange things happening to his or her feet; they may tingle, or they may be numb. When they are bruised or scratched, they may take a long time to heal. This is because excess sugar in the blood has damaged vital nerve endings and, in the worst case, caused atherosclerosis, leading to reduced blood flow to the limbs. The consequent numbness can mask a severe injury, which can become infected, eventually leading to gangrene and amputation." Gottlieb writes in "Alternative Cures" that more than 50 percent of the lower limb amputations in the United States each year are performed on people with diabetes.
On a somewhat different end of the spectrum of health matters implicitly associated with diabetes are sexual drive and performance. In "Food and Healing," author Anne Marie Colbin states, "There is some evidence that a high consumption of sugar-sweetened foods may lead not only to impotence and premature ejaculation, but to unrealistic sexual attitudes and expectations, strong urges, strange fantasies and even crimes of sexual violence."
Since the tendency to consume sweet, sugary foods in large quantities is so deeply ingrained in the eating habits of Americans, a quick answer for diabetics and those at risk of developing the disease seems to be sugar-free artificial sweeteners, such as NutraSweet or Equal. However, the Life Extension Foundation states in "Disease Prevention and Treatment" that consuming aspartame poses a potential health hazard, although the matter is highly debated. "Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and confections are not permissible for prediabetic or diabetic patients, but the alternative, artificially sweetened beverages and foodstuffs, may not be either. Allegations have implicated aspartame as a potential risk factor for several disorders…Many artificial sweeteners marketed as a sugar substitute may actually contain sugar, masquerading as dextrose and maltodextrin."
Today, while products containing artificial sweeteners touted as "sugar-free" line U.S. grocery shelves, the problem in the 1980s and 1990s came in the form of "fat-free" and "low-fat" products. Atkins says that because the fat had been either completely or partially removed from the products, they no longer tasted good. To compensate for the lack of fat, companies packed their "fat-free" or "low-fat" products full of sugar. Where sugar is consumed, obesity is soon to follow, and diabetes will be on obesity's heels. "The United States has 'low-fatted' and 'dieted' itself to a raging epidemic of obesity and diabetes," said Atkins. Joseph L. Pizzorno and Michael T. Murray, authors of "The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine," sum the problem up nicely: "The human body was not designed to handle the amount of refined sugar, salt, saturated fats, and other harmful food compounds that many people in the United States and other Western countries feed it."
You might wonder how people can possibly consume so much sugar, but it's not difficult, according to William Duffy, author of "Sugar Blues." Duffy says, "Man-refined sugar is eight times as concentrated as flour, and eight times as unnatural -- perhaps eight times as dangerous. It is the unnaturalness that deceives the tongue and appetite, leading to over-consumption. Who would eat five pounds of sugar beets a day? Yet the equivalent in refined sugar is a mere five ounces."
If refined sugar is so dangerous, even in small amounts, what can diabetics and obese people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes do to avoid it? First, turn to natural sweets like fruit. The natural sugar found in fruit and honey is fructose, which is much healthier than refined white sugar. However, commercially sold fructose, better known as high-fructose corn syrup, should be avoided, as it can contain up to 55 percent sucrose, which requires insulin to metabolize.
Earl Mindell and Virginia Hopkins, authors of "Prescription Alternatives," blame our nation's sharp rise in diabetes on increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and the resulting depletion of chromium in the body. Chromium is important in helping glucose pass from the bloodstream into the cells. Mindell and Hopkins say that studies done at the US Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Resource Center reveal that consuming fructose in this form causes chromium levels to drop, in turn raising LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and impairing immune system function. "As our consumption of high fructose corn syrup has risen 250 percent in the past 15 years, our rate of diabetes has increased approximately 45 percent in about the same time period," said Mindell.
"Reversing Diabetes" author Julian Whitaker warns that consuming some natural sweeteners still poses a threat to diabetics. "You might think that replacing white sugar with honey, molasses, and other 'healthy' sweeteners is the way to go. Unfortunately, just like refined white sugar, almost all natural sweeteners have a high glycemic index and provoke a sharp glucose release. The one 'natural' sweetener that is low on the glycemic index is fructose." Unfortunately for diabetics, sugar in almost all its forms can pose problems. Balch offers the following advice in "Prescription for Dietary Wellness": "The risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer can be reduced through the simple act of substituting whole grains for refined grains. Refined foods such as white flour and white rice are stripped of the fiber and nutrients that whole grains still possess. The first word on the label must be whole -- don't be fooled by artificial brown or caramel coloring."
In addition to avoiding all refined sugars and flours, "Graedons Best Medicine" authors Joe and Dr. Terasa Graedon recommend that diabetics and obese people avoid fats. "Fat, especially saturated fat, may be as dangerous for diabetics as sugar. Frequent small meals and the use of olive oil instead of butter or cheese may help control blood sugar and cholesterol levels." Laurie Deutsch Mozian recommends in "Foods That Fight Disease" that diabetics and obese dieters eat small, healthy meals more frequently. "People with diabetes should eat at least three meals a day at regular intervals to keep their blood sugar levels within normal range. Meals and snacks that combine carbohydrates with proteins or fats will have the longest-lasting effects on blood sugar levels because protein and fat take longer to raise blood sugar than carbohydrates do."
According to James Howenstein, author of "A Physician's Guide to Natural Health Products that Work," "Diabetes was a very rare illness in the United States in 1880, with only 2.8 persons out of every 100,000 having diabetes. Now at least 10 percent of the populace has diabetes, and when you look for early signs of diabetes, that number is certain to be much higher." Mindell and Hopkins illustrate America's problem with obesity and diabetes by comparing the U.S. to countries that rely on natural, unrefined food sources. "In countries where people eat a diet low in fat and sugar and high in whole foods such as unrefined grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, diabetes is almost nonexistent. When they move to the U.S., their diabetes risk skyrockets. Tragically, as Western "nutrition free" processed and fast foods…are introduced to Third World countries, their rates of diabetes are rapidly rising. It is estimated that by the year 2010, some 40 percent of Americans 65 or older will have adult-onset diabetes (type 2 diabetes)."
To attain enhanced states of health, diabetics and people at risk of developing it must learn to drastically cut back, or completely eliminate, their sugar and refined white flour intake by being conscious of the ingredients in the products they consume and knowing how those ingredients effect their bodies.