Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Sugar... how sweet it isn’t (part two)

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In 1924, Seale Harris, MD, discovered hypoglycemia, which was also called hyperthyroidism. He explained the roller coaster of energy and mood swings caused by ingesting sugar and other carbs that turn into sugar instantly in the blood stream. The cycle works like this: an infusion of sugar triggers the alarm that the blood sugar is too high, and the pancreas responds with insulin; that causes the blood sugar to drop, making you feel hungry, tired, and out of sorts, so you reach for something to pick you up. Other stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, nicotine and stress also trigger a fight or flight reaction, triggering insulin, mimicking what sugar does.

Picture the typical scenario in many homes and workplaces: Rushing to get ready for work, we grab what’s easy­— a cup of coffee and some toast or cereal. That doesn’t keep us going for long, so when we’re at work, we have more coffee, along with a donut or a candy bar, and maybe a cigarette. That pumps up our blood sugar for a bit, but then it plummets even lower, and we eat more high carb food, perhaps a white bread sandwich or pasta salad, some chips, and a banana. If we have been on a blood sugar roller coaster all morning, it may be hard get back to a steady blood sugar level, even with a balanced lunch of protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.

I have done contract work for some large companies at times, and I learned pretty quickly that if I needed information or wanted to have a serious discussion with other employees, it was best to do that in the morning while their brains were still functioning well. Having one or two drinks at lunch with a high-carb meal like fried foods or a burger and fries was not unusual for some, which meant they were only good for a nap in the afternoon. The cycle of coffee or pop, sugary, starchy snacks, smoking and workday stress continued through the afternoon.

Dr. Harris presented his discovery 94 years ago, and in 1949, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his research. So you’d think the medical establishment would welcome the new information that would enable them to help patients, right? But quite the opposite happened. Dr. Harris had said, “Hyperthyroidism or low blood glucose therapy is a do-it-yourself proposition. A doctor can merely teach them what to do.” In his book, Sugar Blues, William Dufy said that the medical profession “landed on Dr. Harris like a ton of bricks…because his discoveries, if allowed to leak out, might make trouble for surgeons, psychoanalysts, and other medical specialists.” In 1973, the A.M.A. did an about-face and labeled hypoglycemia a non-disease.

Some argue it’s a condition, not a disease, but the point is, it is a real condition with symptoms such as dizziness, headache, confusion, inability to concentrate, sweating, shaking, blurred vision, personality changes and feelings of extreme hunger. Everyone experiences low blood sugar when they haven’t eaten for a while, but those with hypoglycemia have more severe, often sudden reactions, without even being aware they are hungry and need to eat. While the danger of driving under the influence of alcohol is widely recognized, little attention has been paid to people driving with low blood sugar levels and/or hypoglycemic reactions, and I would surmise that many accidents and near-accidents involve driving under the influence of junk food.

During the 1980s, more than 8,000 inmates in 14 U.S. juvenile penal facilities were involved in studies on the relationship between crime, sugar, and delinquent behavior, according to Certified Holistic Health Counselor Connie Bennett in her book, Sugar Shock. Results showed that reducing consumption of refined sugars led to a 50-percent reduction in antisocial behavior. Former Ohio probation officer Barbara Reed Stitt, PhD put prisoners on a diet that stressed fresh vegetables, fruits, water, healthy fats, lean meat and fish and banned sugar, white flour products, chemical additives, caffeine, and alcohol. She said, “The results were astounding with completely changed behavior. Eighty percent of probationers went on to become productive members of society, compared to the typical 70 to 80-percent recidivism rate.

Research in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that malnourished children become more aggressive as they grow older. “They are not getting crucial minerals like zinc, iron, B vitamins, and protein, all needed to develop a healthy nervous system required for mental and emotional health and stability.”

The plot thickens and definitely gets stickier when other effects of sugar are examined. Dr. Nicholas Perricone, is a dermatologist known for his work on skin care and anti-aging through nutrition rather than botox and surgery. His dramatic statement in the forward to Sugar Shock states, “Sugar and foods that convert rapidly to sugar in the bloodstream are toxic” because they create an inflammatory response in the body. How does that happen? It’s due to glycation of protein in our tissues, a process known to discolor and toughen food in storage. Sugar molecules permanently attach to collagen present in the skin and elsewhere, causing inflammation and cross-linking in the collagen, that in turn causes wrinkles and makes our skin inflexible and leathery.

The sugar-collagen bond generates free radials, leading to more inflammation. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) occur when insulin levels are consistently high due to overconsumption of sugar. That fatigues the mitochondria, your cells’ source of energy.

He states that his research has shown that “chronic subclinical inflammation is the single greatest precipitator of aging and age-related diseases, which includes heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, some forms of cancer, obesity, loss of muscle mass, and wrinkled, sagging skin.” He contends that while many other factors can trigger inflammation, such as stress, a weakened immune system, excess ultraviolet light, hormonal changes, and environmental stressors such as air pollution, herbicides, and pesticides, diet is the primary cause with stress a close second. Diabetics with constant high sugar levels fall victim to kidney failure, blindness, heart attacks and strokes, but if sugar levels are kept within the normal range, health problems can decrease by 70 percent.

Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra concurs, saying that he realized in the 1970s while treating his mother and other elderly diabetics for heart disease and seeing their premature aging, that it was sugar, not cholesterol, primarily responsible for their condition. Dr. Steve Park, practicing in the Ely Essentia clinic, has warned about the sugar peril for years. He advises eating a high protein, low carb diet with plenty of fresh produce, saying, “Go ahead and have eggs and bacon for breakfast. It’s the toast that will kill you.”

There is no one solution that works for everyone, but being proactive about your health, cutting way back on sugar, feeding your body whole foods, and getting out for a walk are the steps you can take immediately to start improving your well-being.

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