Spoon Fulls: Our Crush On Sugar!

In the 1964 movie “Mary Poppins” they sang a song about taking your medicine with A Spoon Full Of Sugar. I’m not suggesting that Mary Poppins single handedly caused the obesity or diabetic epidemic, but she might want to re-think if that sugar was helping or hurting us – literally. I recently read a book titled “Sugar Crush.” I highly recommend it for everyone. You can check it out on Amazon here. However this blog post isn’t a book review. I just wanted to take a minute to discuss one section I found truly interesting on sugar and inflammation. What caught my attention as I was reading was the effect sugar has on our nerves. Now in the office I deal with nerves and nervous system problems every day. And inflammation plays a big part. I think everyone knows too much sugar in our diets is bad. But what I didn’t know was exactly how sugar slowly breaks down this miraculous system we have and causes damage and degeneration to the most important system of our body – the nervous system. Marketers and product labels are extremely tricky to read. You almost have to have a doctorate in nutrition (and even that might not be enough) to know what the heck your looking at. The food industry loves to hide added sugar as different names. So let’s put together a short list of what sugar may also be known as. Here we go: Agave nectar Barley malt Beet sugar Blackstrap molasses Brown sugar Cane sugar Caramel Carob syrup Coconut palm sugar Corn sweetener Corn syrup Corn syrup solids Crystalline fructose Date sugar Dehydrated cane juice Dextrin Dextrose Dried oats syrup Evaporated cane juice Fruit juice concentrate Glucose Golden syrup Gum syrup High fructose corn syrup Honey Inverted sugar Malt syrup Maltodextrin Maltose Maple syrup Molasses Muscavado Palm sugar Rapadura Sefiners syrup Simple syrup Sorghum syrup Sucanat Sucrose Treacle Turbinado And don’t forget Alcohol. Oh yeah, us humans can turn alcohol to sugar without much effort at all. Whew! You can quickly see why this is tough and the food industry doesn’t make it easy for us. So before we get into exactly how sugar effects our nervous system, or nerves for that matter, let’s lay some groundwork and get a basic understanding of how nerves work. Living here in NC we have some great beaches to visit. We’ve probably all walked across a hot beach at some time or another and felt the hot sand beneath our feet. We’ve probably even stepped on a pebble or a shell that caught our attention whether it was sharp or round. In either case we felt it and could determine very quickly what we stepped on and if it was damaging or not. All the time though you have been unconsciously aware of your of your body changing to balance itself from the ever changing surface of the sand. At the same time your brain is receiving messages (if all is working correctly) about the texture, temperature, pressure, vibration, and pain. This is known as proprioception. Just a big word that means “knowing where you are in relationship to your environment.” Stand up for a second and close your eyes. Your proprioception is hard at work and allows you to remain standing (again if all is working correctly) without receiving the input from your eyesight. Merkel Cells and Meissner’s Corpuscles All the messages being sent back to the brain from the body run on afferent nerves. Think about ALL the different types of sensations that we feel and interpret. There are two main types of mechanical receptors that are in the skin that are constantly sending messages back to the brain. Merkel cells, which sense changes in pressure, texture, and location and Meissner’s corpuscles, which sense light touch and vibration. You have two types of thermal receptors, one for heat and one for cold. And messages regarding pain run on tiny nerve endings just under the skin called nociceptors. You have these Merkel cells and Meissner’s corpuscles everywhere but primarily in your hands and feet, and lots more in your hands. Think about it. Close your eyes and have someone put something in your hands. You can probably tell within an instant what it is, all the way down to it’s texture, shape, temperature, weight, etc. can’t you? Think of the Merkel receptors and Meissner’s corpuscles as pixels on a TV screen. The more pixels you have the higher the definition and better quality of the picture. Long term nerve damage from too much sugar destroys these receptors. When your nerves can’t get a clear picture of the environment, all kinds of problems start to show up. You lose your balance, you get weird sensations from your feet (like burning), or you can’t feel pain, and the list goes on. We’ll get into how sugar destroys the nerves here in a bit. But first we still need a little more understanding of how nerves work. Type A Delta and Type C Nerves There are several types of nerve fibers but we are going to talk about two main ones: Type A Delta and Type C nerve fibers. The A Delta nerves are sensory. Which means they need to be fast. Myelinated nerves are wrapped in a substance called myelin. Think of it like an electrical cable with the plastic covering. Myelin is like the plastic covering. These type of nerves send signals extremely fast…thankfully. When you step on something sharp don’t you want to know about it right away? Yep! Type C fibers are also sensory but are unmyelinated (no plastic covering). Which means they are quite a bit slower. They also need a stronger stimulus to send the signal. C fibers tell our brain about burning pain, temperature, an itch, or a chronic ache or pain. So when both of these nerve fibers are working well, you don’t feel things correctly, if at all. The picture your body is sending to your brain is blurry and may be received as burning, or numbness and tingling, while other messages get poorly received or even amplified causing pain, itching, or burning. What does this sound like? You got it peripheral neuropathy. How Sugar Effects Our Nerves Over the years all that extra sugar has been slowing destroying your nerves through inflammation and scarring. Inflammation happens three different ways with too much sugar: the Maillard Reaction, the polyol pathway, and the nitric oxide pathway. The Maillard Reaction The Maillard Reaction is a chemical reaction between sugar and amino acids. Think thanksgiving dinner and what happens to the turkey skin in the hot oven. This process is called glycation. Glycation happens when glucose (sugar) reacts with proteins, fats, or nucleic acids (DNA) to produce things called Advanced Glycation End products or AGEs. When sugar reacts with proteins it produces a cross-linked protein, causing them to be stiff and malformed. On the skin surface this looks like age spots and wrinkles. This is just what we can see. So what do you think is happening inside your body – everywhere? Now you have an idea of what AGEs are doing. AGEs are a toxic form of scar tissue keeping your nerves from functioning properly and causing lesions. Think of these AGEs as tiny injuries happening all over the body. Your body’s natural response is to try and heal and protect itself from the injury. Your immune system releases large amounts of inflammatory chemicals as protection. As Dr. Jacoby notes, “depending on where these AGE lesions are formed, the result can be arthritis, heart disease, cataracts, memory loss, wrinkled skin, or complications of diabetes – such as peripheral neuropathy.” So just like that turkey in the oven you are slowly baking your nerves – to death. The Polyol Pathway So when we have too much sugar floating around in our system our body has to get rid of it some other way. One of those ways is the polyol pathway. I’m not going to go into the details of this pathway but here it is in a nutshell. First when we have too much sugar floating around damage to the nerves happens right away. Sugar is broken down via an enzyme called aldose reductase into a substance called sorbitol. Does sorbitol ring a bell? It should cause it’s an organic sweetner in low calorie foods, dietetic candy, and imitation crab just to name a few. Sorbitol cannot pass through the cell membranes, which means it gets “stuck” wherever it is made (which is inside the cell). And since it is chemically related to sugar (think cousin), it attracts water. What happens to your sugar bowl on a humid day? So now we have this sorbitol inside the cell attracting water. Our cells now are swollen and reducing blood flow, starving of of nutrients and oxygen, and being able to get rid of waste products. When this happens in tight spaces that the nerves pass through, like your wrist or ankles, you get compression, which causes pain, numbness, and other symptoms of neuropathy. The Nitric Oxide Pathway Like most other pathways, the nitric oxide pathway is complex as well and we won’t be going into the details but will definitely hit the high points so you will have a good understanding. The inner lining of your blood vessels is called the endothelium. An amino acid call L-arginine is in your blood and goes through a complex process involving an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and converts into the gas nitric oxide (NO). So in short so far we have L-arginine converts to NO. When the enothelium releases this gas (NO), it causes your blood vessels to relax and dilate allowing your blood to flow more easily through the vessel. But wait there’s more. When the endothelium is damaged it can’t release the NO gas as well, and therefore your vessels don’t relax as they should and stay constricted. But how do the blood vessels get damaged? Again it’s complex but the short answer is because of the molecule asymmetric dimethylarginine or ADMA. ADMA is basically a cousin to L-arginine. But they are competing cousins. They both can attach to nitric oxide synthase. When L-arginine attaches it causes the blood vessel to relax and dilate, but when ADMA attaches it converts to peroxynitrite, which clogs the conversion and blocks the production of nitric oxide. That’s bad. As you can see, too much ADMA stops our production of nitric oxide and our vessels don’t relax. And if our vessels don’t relax and dilate we get an increase in blood pressure. According to Poiseulle’s Law, a 19% reduction in the diameter of a vessel will reduce blood flow by 50%. And when blood, which carries nutrients and oxygen to every part of your body, can’t get to your nerves, they suffocate and die, slowly and painfully. This is just one area of how sugar can damage our nervous system. But it’s our nerves and nervous system that we rely heavily on. It’s the master controller, coordinating the function of every cell, tissue, organ, and other systems of the body. So we need it to work properly – everyday all day. Too much sugar impairs and even kills our nervous system and our bodies aren’t receiving those critical messages that are sent via the network of nerves. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with muscles, liver, kidneys, eyes, gall bladder, or big toe. As Dr. Jacoby states, “ALL nerves are irritated by the effects of sugar and ultimately damage important muscles that control the functioning of your organs.”

#sugar #sugarcrush

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