Monday, March 13, 2006

10 Ways Sugar Harms Your Health

Lynn Prowitt-Smith

How could something so sweet leave such a bitter mark on your health? Here are 10 ways sugar harms your health.

1. Sugar causes blood glucose to spike and plummet.

Unstable blood sugar often leads to mood swings, fatigue, headaches and cravings for more sugar. Cravings set the stage for a cycle of addiction in which every new hit of sugar makes you feel better temporarily but, a few hours later, results in more cravings and hunger. On the flip side, those who avoid sugar often report having little or no cravings for sugary things and feeling emotionally balanced and energised.

2. Sugar increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Large-scale studies have shown that the more high-glycaemic (Gi) index foods a person consumes (those that quickly affect blood sugar), including foods containing sugar, the higher their risk for becoming obese and for developing diabetes and heart disease. Emerging research is also suggesting connections between high Gi diets and many different forms of cancer.

3. Sugar interferes with immune function.

Research on human subjects is scant, but animal studies have shown that sugar suppresses immune response. More research is needed to understand the exact mechanisms; however, we do know that bacteria and yeast feed on sugar and that, when these organisms get out of balance in the body, infections and illness are more likely.
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4. A high-sugar diet often results in chromium deficiency.

It's sort of a catch-22. If you consume a lot of sugar and other refined carbohydrates, you probably don't get enough of the trace mineral chromium, and one of chromium's main functions is to help regulate blood sugar. According to scientists, most of us don’t get enough chromium in our diets. Chromium is found in a variety of animal foods, seafood and plant foods. Refining starches and other carbohydrates rob these foods of their chromium supplies so think wholegrain!

5. Sugar accelerates aging.

It even contributes to that telltale sign of aging: sagging skin. Probably another reason ever-young celebrities like Yasmin LeBon steer clear of the sweet stuff! Some of the sugar you consume, after hitting your bloodstream, ends up attaching itself to proteins, in a process called glycation. These new molecular structures contribute to the loss of elasticity found in aging body tissues, from your skin to your organs and arteries. The more sugar circulating in your blood, the faster this damage takes hold.

6. Sugar causes tooth decay.

With all the other life-threatening effects of sugar, we sometimes forget the most basic damage it does. When it sits on your teeth, it creates decay more efficiently than any other food substance, and all the money in the world can’t reverse this process. For a strong visual reminder, next time the Tooth Fairy visits, try the old tooth-in-a-glass-of-Coke experiment—the results will surely convince you that sugar isn't good for your pearly whites.

7. Sugar can cause gum disease, which can lead to heart disease.

Increasing evidence shows that chronic infections, such as those that result from periodontal problems, play a role in the development of coronary artery disease. The most popular theory is that the connection is related to widespread effects from the body's inflammatory response to infection.

8. Sugar affects behaviour and cognition in children.

It is believed that one trigger of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be consumption of sugar, and many children with ADHD crave high Gi foods, which leads to hypoglycaemia. All high Gi foods cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, which causes a temporary surge of energy and at the same time, hyperactivity. Soon after this energy surge comes a dip in energy, with the end result being hypoglycaemia.

This will inevitably lead to irritability, poor sleeping habits and lack of concentration. In light of this, if low Gi foods are eaten most of the time, especially for breakfast, blood sugar and energy levels remain stable, and this enables the child to concentrate better and stabilise their emotions.

9. Sugar increases stress.

When we're under stress, our stress hormone levels rise. These chemicals are the body's fight-or-flight emergency crew, sent out to prepare the body for an attack or an escape. These chemicals are also called into action when blood sugar is low.

For example, after a blood-sugar spike (say, from eating a piece of birthday cake), there's a compensatory dive, which causes the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol. One of the main things these hormones do is raise blood sugar, providing the body with a quick energy boost. The problem is, these helpful hormones can make us feel anxious, irritable and shaky.

10. Sugar takes the place of important nutrients.

According to nutrition scientists, research has shown that people who consume the most sugar have the lowest intakes of essential nutrients –– especially vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B-12, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. Ironically, those who consume the most sugar are children and teenagers, the individuals who need these nutrients most.

Slashing Sugar

Now that you know the negative impacts refined sugar can have on your body and mind, you'll want to be more careful about the foods you choose. And the first step is getting educated about where sugar lurks -- believe it or not, a food needn't even taste all that sweet for it to be loaded with sugar.

When it comes to convenience and packaged foods, let the ingredients label be your guide, and be aware that just because something boasts that it is low in carbs or a "diet" food, doesn't mean it's free of sugar.

Friday, March 10, 2006

DIY health checks

When the National Health Service (NHS) was established in 1944, it promised us free healthcare from the cradle to the grave. But today, with the NHS ready to do a Roman Empire and collapse under the pressure of its own weight and crippling debt, it’s time we took matters into our own hands.
The market in home health testing kits has rocketed recently, and it’s not just your common or garden pregnancy tests we’re talking about. Tests for sexually transmitted diseases and other conditions such as bowel cancer and diabetes are available over the counter – pretty handy in these times when getting an appointment with your GP isn’t as easy as it should be. While some doctors aren’t entirely happy with the increase in do-it-yourself health tests (their concern is that we might not be competent enough to carry out the test properly ourselves or could fail to understand the results) they are all relatively simple to use, and they make it easy for us to check our bodies for signs of serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions. Of course, there are things you should be checking yourself for regularly that don’t require any kit, such as lumps in your breast or testicles, but for a growing number of illnesses and conditions there is a simple test you can do yourself, all of which you can buy at either a chemist or online.

Bowel cancer
It’s estimated that around 6% of us will suffer from bowel cancer at some point in our lives, usually well into adulthood, and the disease is the second most deadly form of cancer after lung cancer, with around 50% of cases proving fatal. However, if the condition is caught early, this number falls considerably to 10%. One of the earliest symptoms of bowel cancer is blood in the stools and there are many easy to use take home tests that will tell you almost instantly if this is something you need to worry about. While examining your stools is something you’d only normally expect to see Dr Gillian McKeith doing on television, it’s something we should all do regularly. If you do see blood in your stools, don’t panic, it could be a number of conditions, from bowel cancer to haemorrhoids, but you should go and see your GP straight away to find out exactly what is causing it.
Click here to read more about bowel cancer and its symptoms

Diabetes, a condition where a person’s blood sugar level is higher than normal, affects 1.6 million people in the UK. This number has increased rapidly in recent years due to the massive rise in overweight and obese people in the UK, and the charity Diabetes UK estimates that there are 1 million undiagnosed diabetics in the country, a shocking statistic. Unhealthy diets, obesity and lack of exercise are the main factors contributing to diabetes, and if you’re concerned that you could be suffering from the condition, it’s important that you diagnose yourself using one of the many cheap, simple tests that take as little as 60 seconds to carry out and which can be bought at any good pharmacist. If you don’t, it’s worth noting that illnesses such as heart disease, eye damage and hardening of the arteries can occur if the condition is not managed.
Click here to read more about diabetes

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease, affecting about 1 in 20 people, mainly young adults, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘silent epidemic’, so-called because it rarely presents any symptoms. There is indeed an epidemic of Chlamydia in the UK at the moment, with cases of infections having doubled in the last six years and an estimated 10% of women under 25 carrying the disease without knowing. Again, simple tests can be carried out in the comfort of your own home, and, requiring only a test kit and urine sample, you can find out almost instantly whether or not you need to seek further medical help to treat the condition. The tests search for the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis, and if detected the condition is easily treatable using antibiotics. If undetected, it can damage the reproductive system in women, which is why it’s the commonest cause of infertility.
Click here to read more about chlamydia

Starting a family can be the most exciting time for any couple, but it can also lead to heartache if one person in the relationship discovers that they are infertile. There are a number of tests that can either measure the levels of motile sperm (the type that can swim) in men or the levels of follicle stimulating hormone in woman (rising levels of this are associated with reduced fertility), but a product recently launched by Boots has made determining your fertility levels easier than it’s ever been. The Fertell fertility test will tell a woman in 30 minutes and a man in 75 minutes if they are capable of having children. This one-step product was a particular landmark as it effectively told women, by counting how many healthy eggs they had remaining in their ovaries, how long they had left to start a family, something that is particularly useful to career women, as a woman’s fertility starts to decline when she reaches 30.
Click here to read more about infertility

Blood pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects 10 million people in the UK – that’s one in six of us. Blood pressure depends upon how forcefully the heart pumps blood around your body and how narrowed your arteries are, and hypertension occurs when blood is forced through the arteries at an increased pressure. One of the problems with high blood pressure is that it very rarely presents symptoms and in most cases the causes are unknown (though smoking, alcohol and obesity are contributory factors), but the consequences of leaving it untreated can be disastrous. This means that many people who have the condition are unaware that they are at increased risk of blood clots, kidney disease and heart attacks. It is therefore essential that adults over 40 check their blood pressure regularly, and with numerous take-home blood pressure monitors on the market, doing this at home is a straight-forward process.
Click here to read more about high blood pressure

High cholesterol, or hypercholesterolaemia, is one of the major contributing factors of coronary heart disease, the number one killer in the UK and most developed countries. Cholesterol is one of the body’s fats, or lipids, and is an important building block in the structure of cells and are also used to make hormones and produce energy. Cholesterol level in the blood depends to some extent on what you eat and having too much can lead to the hardening and narrowing of arteries. There is both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, and while the good kind protects the body against diseases of the arteries, the bad kind contributes to it, so it is the discrepancy between levels of the two in the body that determine the risk of heart problems. Home health tests will be able to measure the levels of both in your body and tell you if you are at risk. Meanwhile, eat a low fat diet and exercise to raise the level of good cholesterol in your bloodstream.
Click here to read more about high cholesterol levels

Prostate disorders
Not a lot of men know where their prostate is, or what it does, but particularly with older men disorders of the prostate gland can serious threaten their health. Prostate cancer, for example, is a big killer in men aged between 45 and 70, and any man in this age group should test their prostate regularly. The prostate makes and secretes prostatic fluid, one of the five fluids that make up semen. With prostate cancer, cells in the prostate start to grow out of a normal pattern and do not from into normal prostate tissue, instead turning into groups of cells, or tumours, which can then dislodge and cause tumours in other parts of the body. The likelihood of successful treatment of prostate cancer and other prostate disorders increase considerably with early diagnosis, and a quick test with a prostate screening kit will identify levels of prostate specific antigen – a chemical that appears in the bloodstream in high levels when the prostate is enlarged or cancerous - in the bloodstream and will either rule out any disorders or tell you that you need to seek medical attention.
Click here to read more about checking for prostate cancer


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