Sugar serves an important purpose in our diets. In moderation, it’s an excellent source of energy.
Millions of years ago, our ancestors ate fruits not only for energy but because it also helped their bodies store more fat – something which could be the difference between life and death when food was scarce.
Back then, not eating enough sugar meant lower chances of survival. As a result, the human brain evolved an interesting survival mechanism: a near-insatiable desire for sweetness(1).
But today, our genetic predisposition to loving sugar is more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Many people, especially in developed countries, consume far more sugar than is healthy in their diets, leading to weight gain and tooth decay, among other health problems. But just what are the possible complications of eating too much sugar?
1. Too Much Sugar Is Bad For Your Heart
High levels of blood sugar can have a negative impact on the most important organ in your body – the heart. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that large amounts of dietary sugar can put extra stress on the heart, leading to a decrease in muscle function(2).
The ramifications of this are serious – it can lead to heart failure, according to the Cleveland Clinic(3). Too much sugar in your diet can also increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
2. Too Much Sugar Is Bad For Your Brain
Diets high in sugar affect the neuronal and behavioral plasticity associated with a chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)(4). This leads to decreased function in the ability to efficiently form new memories and store new information.
3. Sugar and Diabetes
High blood sugar levels are one of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes – but that’s not all. Years of high blood sugar levels can result in significant damage to your kidneys, leading to kidney disease and even kidney failure, according to the American Diabetes Association.(5)
4. Sugar Causes Joint Pain
Elevated levels of sugar can contribute to the inflammation that causes joint pain, especially in those suffering from arthritis or other chronic pain and inflammation-related conditions. While anyone can benefit from a low-sugar diet, it’s especially encouraged in those with arthritis, according to a 2002 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.(6)
5. Sugar Is Bad For Your Skin
In addition to causing breakouts of acne, sugar causes inflammation which breaks down the collagen and elastin in your skin, which accelerates the aging process. In addition, high sugar diets are more likely to develop insulin resistance, which can cause excess hair growth, as well as dark patches to appear on the neck and in body creases(7).
6. Sugar Damages Your Liver
High-sugar diets can cause fat to build up in your liver, which in turn can lead to your liver inflammation. Over an extended period of time, this can be as destructive to your liver as excessive daily alcohol consumption, which leads to a condition called cirrhosis of the liver – essentially, scar tissue on one of the most important organs in your body.
While alcoholism is the most common cause of cirrhosis, bad diet is a close second, according to Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who spoke to the Daily Mail about the dangers of excessive sugar consumption(8).
Curbing Your Sugar Intake
Eliminating common sources of excess sugar from your diet isn’t easy – in fact, many scientists believe that excessive sugar intake meets the diagnostic criteria for addiction in many cases(9). But it’s well worth cutting down if you’re concerned about your health.
Cutting out sugary beverages like sports drinks and sodas is a start – as is switching from simple to complex carbohydrates (less white bread, more quinoa). Overall, the health impact of excessive sugar means that indulging your sweet tooth more often than not just isn’t worth it in the long run.