Too much sugar won't directly weaken your immune system, but consuming too many calories might
The CDC recommends that added sugars make up no more than 10% of your daily calories, but most Americans exceed this limit.
There is no scientific evidence that too much sugar directly weakens your immune system.
However, sugary foods and drinks contain many calories and too many calories can affect immune function.
Processed foods with a high sugar content often do not contain fiber, which is important for maintaining a healthy microbiome, which also plays a key role in immune function.
While too much sugar may not directly affect your immune system, doing too much calories from processed foods and drinks can indirectly weaken your immune system.
This article has been medically reviewed by David S. Seres, MD, director of medical nutrition and associate professor of medicine, Irving Medical Center at Columbia University.
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Too much sugar is associated with a number of health effects, including obesity, prediabetes, and fatty liver disease. However, the idea that sugar weakens the immune system is shaky at best. And scientists say that the role of sugar is far more complicated.
The idea that sugar weakens the immune system probably came up in the early 1970s when a study was published that reported that phagocytes, a type of white blood cell, kill bacteria and pathogens in people who have recently had pure sugar or Consuming sugar, food, including honey and orange juice, were less active. The measurements were carried out within 5 hours after the sugar consumption.
However, the results of this study have yet to be replicated in the past 4.5 decades, and there are no other studies showing that sugar directly affects the immune system. In fact, an average healthy adult will remove simple sugar from their system in two hours, says Peter Mancuso, associate professor of nutritional science at the University of Michigan.
"It's only people with diabetes who may have high enough [blood sugar] levels to impair immune function. Even a liter of cola a day would probably not affect immune function," says Mancuso.
Sugar, inflammation and the immune system
The role of sugar in suppressing the immune system is more related to total calorie intake. "If you consume too much sugar, you can also consume too many calories, which leads to obesity," says Mancuso. "[This] is associated with a chronic condition of an inflammatory disease."
It is believed that chronic inflammation can overwhelm your immune system because the body is already fighting the inflammation on an ongoing basis and is less able to respond to other threats. This can affect the functioning of cells and organs and increase the risk of a number of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma.
Some research shows a connection between the consumption of fructose - a component of table sugar, which is obtained from sugar cane and beets - with asthma, chronic bronchitis and arthritis. Associations should be interpreted with extreme caution, however, as they do not prove cause and effect.
Up to this point, Mancuso says: "Studies showing relationships between a certain level of sugar intake and inflammation may not explain the lack of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish that are known to reduce inflammation."
Poor nutrition can play the same role in chronic inflammation as excess sugar. And since we generally don't eat pure sugar - with the exception of some sweetened drinks - it is difficult to distinguish between the two.
Sugar and the microbiome
Emerging research into healthy bacteria that support your immune system, the so-called microbiome, is also suggesting how too much sugar instead of healthier foods can affect immunity, says Caroline Childs, a lecturer in nutritional science at the University of Southampton in England researching the effects of nutrition on immune function.
About 70% of our immune system is linked to monitoring and responding to our gut bacteria. "They grow different colonies depending on their diet. These bacteria thrive on the waste products from our food, and their favorite food is fiber," says Childs.
Gut bacteria help convert fiber into short chain fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory effects. They also help the body produce vitamins, including up to 86% of our daily vitamin B6 requirement, which plays a vital role in supporting the immune system. If we exchange fiber for sugar, we cannot take advantage of the immune-boosting benefits of these microorganisms.
Researchers are still studying how a healthy microbiome affects general health, but preliminary studies have so far confirmed the belief that healthy eating plays a key role.
How much sugar is too much?
The disease control and prevention centers recommend that added sugars make up no more than 10% of your daily calories. Still, Americans consume about 15% of their daily calories from added sugars, most of which are in the form of sweetened beverages and grains.
These are often referred to as "empty" calories because they do not add nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals to your diet. Processed foods often contain sugar in large quantities. For this reason, it is important to look for added sugars on the labels.
For example, a single serving of Honey Nut Cheerios with a cup of skimmed milk contains 20 grams of added sugar or 4% of a 2,000 calorie diet. If you're a Starbucks fan, a Grande Caramel Frappuccino contains 55 grams of sugar. That's 220 calories, or 11% of a 2,000 calorie diet - above the recommended limit.
If you eat sugar, choose whole foods
If you eat more whole, unprocessed foods instead of sugary foods, you are consuming important nutrients and fiber.
While fruit contains sugar, it also contains fiber, which slows down the digestion rate and keeps blood sugar levels more stable. This is why eating a dessert after a meal, which preferably contains a lot of vegetables, may be better for your body and teeth than a candy alone.
"Fiber is nature's balance system," said Ian Myles, immunologist and chief medical research officer at the National Institutes of Health. For example, if you eat an apple, it contains fiber, which can counteract the inflammatory effects of sugar. But if you make this apple into juice, "remove the fiber and the balancing effect is lost," says Myles.
Avoid artificial sweeteners
Replacing artificial sweeteners can reduce calories, but research has actually linked them to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. It is not yet clear why, but these additives can change the way we process food and make us crave real sugar. Animal studies also indicate that eating intestinal bacteria changes intestinal health with unknown health effects.
It is probably better to stick to the sugar from whole foods such as fruits and vegetables in small doses, Childs says: "Maybe we have to start thinking about sugary treats as something we have less often than every day. We could think of Coca Cola So we think of champagne as something we don't drink every day. "
Related articles from Health Reference:
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How you can strengthen your immune system by changing your diet and lifestyle
Does alcohol weaken the immune system? Yes, if you drink too much
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