As part of our ongoing series of health columns, Dr Debbie Austin, High Peak GP and member of the Governing Body of NHS North Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group, talks about sugar levels.
Many people will have enjoyed tucking into a few Easter eggs over recent weeks. And while most healthy people can get away with the odd sugar binge, it is well known that regular overindulgence can cause diabetes and other serious health problems.
UK guidelines recommend that we should have no more than 50g – or around 10 teaspoons – of sugar a day. Yet surveys suggest the average British adult goes over this by two teaspoons, much of this coming from sugars added to our food by manufacturers.
Sugar does more than rot your teeth: in recent months many experts have argued that it is sugar, not fat, that’s to blame for our obesity epidemic. Yet sugar is not just full of calories. Some scientists are claiming that, calories aside, a sugary diet is harmful because it alters crucial processes and hormone levels in the body.
It is often claimed that sugar gives us an energy boost. However, a recent study at the University of Cambridge suggests sugar doesn’t help with energy at all. In fact, it makes you sleepy. Scientists found that sugar blocks the action of orexins, a type of brain cell responsible for feelings of wakefulness.
Studies also suggest that sugar causes the liver to produce more uric acid, and this leads to high blood pressure – the biggest cause of death globally because it raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. Sugar also seems to raise cholesterol.
Sugar makes us need the loo more often too. If people eat more sugar than the body can handle, it is passed out in urine. And frequent passing of water is a precursor of diabetes because it puts stress on the pancreas.
Some evidence suggests that continuously high blood sugar levels might lead to ageing of the brain that’s associated with dementia. In a study published in the journal, Neurology, researchers took brain scans of 249 people aged from 60 to 64 with blood sugar levels in the normal range.
After four years, those whose blood sugar levels were at the highest end of the normal range were more likely to have shrinkage in the hippocampus and amygdala – areas of the brain associated with memory and thinking.
It’s also worth remembering that sugar isn’t good for your liver. Any calories that aren’t burned off in the body are stored in the liver in the form of fat and, over time, this can lead to a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Astonishingly, one in five British adults is in the early stages of this condition, according to the British Liver Trust.
The bottom line is that too much sugar is bad news, and we should all work hard to restrict our intake.