Certainly, we know that sugar is linked to increased levels of inflammation, which is at the root of virtually every disease including neurological and other conditions like diabetes. And now there is additional research that points to a link between increased sugar consumption and an increase in certain cancers.
In this study (“Simple sugar intake and cancer incidence, cancer mortality and all-cause mortality: A cohort study from the PREDIMED trial”) published in Clinical Nutrition in 2021 and involving over 7,000 participants, scientists found that for every additional five grams of sugar consumed in liquid form per day, the incidence of cancer increased by 8 percent. People with the highest sugar intake experienced a 46 percent increase.
Just for perspective, one teaspoon of sugar is equal to four grams – so, you can see that it doesn’t take a lot to potentially increase our risk of disease. And many of us are consuming far more than a teaspoon a day – that single can of soda you may have had with your lunch contains roughly 35 to 40 grams of sugar! Multiply that by seven days a week and you can see how it all adds up to unhealthy amounts and greater risks, especially if you are drinking more than one can a day.
Another study with over 35,000 participants revealed that people who consumed sugar-sweetened soft drinks more than once per day had an 18 percent increased risk of developing obesity-related cancers than those who rarely consumed such drinks.
Other studies have shown those who consumed the most sugar had a 17 percent increased cancer risk compared to those with the lowest sugar intake. This elevated risk was particularly notable for breast cancer, with a 51 percent increase.
Your brain on sugar.
Back in 2020 we wrote about the impact in particular regarding childhood obesity and incidence of multiple sclerosis. Research led by Queen Mary University of London, U.K. estimates that childhood and adolescent obesity is projected to contribute up to 14 percent of overall risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) by the year 2035.
The negative impacts of sugar on our brain function including cognition and memory have also been well documented. Sugar and its various forms (e.g. high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and glucose) are often ingredients in many of the “comfort foods” we often choose in times of stress. Contrary to improving our mood, excessive sugar consumption may even worsen anxiety, and feelings of sadness.
We also know that the subsequent increase in inflammation can disrupt the health of our gut microbiome which in turn can negatively affect the health of our brain. Several articles in our blog library have looked at this gut-brain connection especially in MS patients – but we can all stand to benefit from choosing a healthy diet that ideally limits refined carbohydrates and items with empty calories and focuses on whole, fresh foods. We recommend an autoimmune paleo diet that includes non-GMO products and grass-fed meat and free-range chicken. And while for some healthy people an occasional cookie or slice of cake may be okay, for most patients in our practice we ask that they eliminate ALL processed foods.
It’s important to note that an autoimmune protocol diet (AIP) is not about weight loss; rather, it is intended as a healing approach to wellness.
Understandably, the holidays are a challenge! But you can definitely overcome the hurdles before venturing out to parties and family gatherings with just a few simple strategies – check out https://aiprecipecollection.com/social-life/and be sure to look at their recipes and other resources too.
You’ll also find a wealth of additional information in the references below and we encourage you to browse the related reading in our blog library on our website to learn even more. Questions or need to schedule a visit? Just reach out to our offices and we’ll be glad to help!
In health and wellness,
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
Harvard School of Public Health – Adult Obesity
Harvard School of Public Health – Child Obesity
Laguna, J. et al. Simple sugar intake and cancer incidence, cancer mortality and all-cause mortality: A cohort study from the PREDIMED trial. Clinical Nutrition. 2021.
Hodge, A., Bassett, J., Milne, R., English, D., & Giles, G. (2018). Consumption of sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened soft drinks and risk of obesity-related cancers. Public Health Nutrition, 21(9), 1618-1626. doi:10.1017/S1368980017002555
Debras, C. et al. Total and added sugar intakes, sugar types, and cancer risk: results from the prospective NutriNet-Santé cohort. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2020.
Fuhrman, J. How sugar affects the brain. verywellmind.com. 2022.
Gazda, S. Childhood obesity linked to higher risk of MS. suzannegazdamd.com. 2020.
Gazda, S. Probiotics, Parkinson’s, and the gut-brain connection. suzannegazdamd.com. 2021.
Gazda, S. What does gut health have to do with MS? suzannegazdamd.com. 2023.
AIP Recipe Collection – a guide for your autoimmune healing journey.
Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology