UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Misc

Title: Is added sugar the new smoking?

Posted: 2/10/2024 by Brian Corwell, MD (Updated: 6/14/2024)
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Ever see a commercial showing active fit people drinking sugar beverages? 

Ever wonder if exercise is protective from the effects of added sugar?

What are the health risks of added sugar?

How much is too much?

C. elegans, a roundworm, shares 40% of its genes with humans

     -Frequently used as a model for health and longevity research

In a 2021 study, researchers altered the diet of the roundworms and found that added sugar was linked to increased glycation end products, high levels of which are associated with an increased risk of CV disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Foods such as fruits are high in natural sugars. Added sugars however are “added” by manufactures to increase flavor.

In our diet, added sugars are everywhere from white bread to ketchup to your favorite Starbucks beverage.  

     -Sugar- sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugars in the American diet.

In 2016 the FDA added a section on nutritional labels for added sugars.  

The CDC advises limitation of added sugars to 10% of total daily caloric intake. 

Added sugars (vs. natural sugars) are more likely to cause spikes in blood sugar and create an inflammatory state thereby increasing the risk of numerous medical problems.

A recent study from the Harvard school of public health investigated whether the benefits of physical activity outweigh the risks of CV disease associated with consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Using 2 cohorts (100,000 people) over a 30-year period, those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages more than twice a week had a higher risk of CV disease.

Those with daily consumption were at higher risk.

Even those that hit the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise were not protected.

Physical activity only reduced the risk of CV disease by approximately 50%. 

Though the study did not specifically look at sports and energy drinks, these beverages are large sources of added sugars.

For example, A 20-ounce Gatorade's Thirst Quencher contains 36g of sugar. 

Take home:  Added sugar, even in moderation, may have negative health consequences even in individuals who exercise regularly.