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How Our Bodies Process Sugar

By David Pérez, MD, FAAFP
How bodies process sugar

The food we consume is made up of three nutrients: proteins, fat and carbohydrates. Of the carbohydrates, there are three types: sugar, starch and fiber. Sugars are the simplest form of carbohydrates and examples include sucrose (table sugar), glucose (our body’s source of energy) and fructose (found in fruits and certain vegetables). Table sugar is composed of one part glucose and one part fructose and is derived from plants such as sugar cane and beets. 

Sugar has become more and more prevalent in processed foods which our bodies are not designed to handle. For example, when we consume an apple, the amount of sugar available to our body, along with soluble and insoluble fiber, is in an amount the body can process efficiently. But when you eat a piece of candy or drink a sweetened beverage, you are essentially consuming pure sugar which is absorbed into your bloodstream. This sends a signal to our bodies to produce insulin so that glucose can be absorbed into our cells for energy or stored in the liver and muscles for later use, or converted to fat. 

When we chronically expose our bodies to excess sugar levels, our cells become resistant to the signal from insulin; in response, our pancreas continues to produce more insulin. Excess insulin causes excess vascular smooth muscle proliferation and cell division. The proliferation of coronary artery vascular smooth muscle makes your coronaries tighter and less likely to vasodilate when needed (like in a stressful situation). This increases your chance of heart attack. The cell growth promoter and cell death inhibitory effects of excess insulin can be augmented and thus, increase your risk of cancer death.

So how do we prevent this state of excess insulin? By sticking to basics. Focus on eating whole foods and avoid processed foods. How can you tell the difference? Look to see if the food has a nutrition label. If it does, then it has been processed. Aim to reduce your consumption of both sugars and carbohydrates. Work on getting your carbohydrates mainly from leafy greens and vegetables. By paying close attention to reducing sugar in your diet, you can help prevent diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Dr. Pérez is a board-certified family physician and fellowship-trained geriatrician with Premier Direct Care and can be reached at (760) 548.3400. www.premierdirect.care. He is also a member of www.DesertDoctors.org.

Sources:
1) Cersosimo E, Xu X, Upala S, Triplitt C, Musi N. Acute insulin resistance stimulates and insulin sensitization attenuates vascular smooth muscle cell migration and proliferation. Physiol Rep. 2014;2(8):e12123. Published 2014 Aug 19. doi:10.14814/phy2.12123;
2) Tsujimoto T, Kajio H, Sugiyama T. Association between hyperinsulinemia and increased risk of cancer death in nonobese and obese people: A population-based observational study. Int J Cancer. 2017;141(1):102–111. doi:10.1002/ijc.30729

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