Too much sugar, not obesity, linked to some chronic diseases

by Karen L. Willoughby |

SAN FRANCISCO, California (Christian Examiner) – Sugar is not a substance that just packs on pounds, researchers have discovered. Eight thousand scientific papers show a strong link between sugar and chronic disease, say scientists at the University of California/San Francisco.

Clinicians widely believe obesity is the cause of metabolic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cystic fibrosis and more. Although obesity is an indication of these diseases, it's not the cause, said pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, author of "Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease."

"Too much sugar causes chronic metabolic disease in both fat and thin people," Lustig explained. "Instead of focusing on obesity as the problem, we should be focused on the processed-food supply."

Added sugars—those that don't naturally occur in foods—are found in 74 percent of all packaged foods and go by 60 names other than "sugar," said Laura Schmidt, a professor at UCSF/s School of Medicine and lead investigator on the SugarScience project, soon to be released on the SugarScience.org website and social media platforms.

The World Health Organization's recommended daily sugar consumption is no more than 24 grams. However, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams for women and children; 36 grams for men. A MacDonald's Big Mac has seven grams of added sugar; Subway ham sandwich: 8 grams; Dickey's barbeque sandwich: 24 grams.

Snacks also are heavily laden with sugar:

▶ Pretzels have eight-tenths of a gram of sugar in a one-ounce serving (about 17 pretzels)

▶ A four-ounce slice of pizza has 3 grams

▶ Activia low fat yogurt contains a whopping 17 grams

▶ A piece of cake typically tips the scale at 33 grams

▶ One 12-ounce soft drink holds 32-36 grams of sugar

And it is Americans' consumption of soft drinks that is a major contributor to the health crisis with sugar.

Liquid sugar -- from soda pop, energy and sports drinks -- represents 36 percent of all added sugars consumed, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Because liquid does not include fiber, the body processes it quickly," explained Barbara Sadick in an article for the Chicago Tribune. "That causes more sugar to be sent to the pancreas and liver than either can process properly, and the resulting buildup of sugar leads to heart disease, diabetes and liver disease.

My body belongs to God. It is His property, not mine. I don't own it; God does.
-Pastor Rick Warren, The Daniel Plan

"Consuming too much sugar causes the level of glucose sugar in the bloodstream to increase," Sadick continued. "That in turn causes the pancreas to release high levels of insulin that cause the body to store extra calories as fat."

One sugar that scientists have discovered is particularly problematic is high-fructose corn syrup. With corn so readily available and low-cost, corn syrup is added as a sweetener to many food products, such as Mrs. Butterworth's pancake syrup. High-fructose corn syrup is its number one ingredient, and a quarter-cup serving has 38 grams of sugar.

"Dumping high fructose corn syrup into cheap foods, sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks is toxic to the body, causing epidemic metabolic diseases and a serious health crisis," said Dean Schillinger, a primary care physician at San Francisco General Hospital, and an expert cited by Sadick.

Schillinger said that in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 1,500 American soldiers lost a limb in combat. In that same period, 1.5 million people in the U.S. lost limbs to amputations from Type 2 diabetes.

Ten years ago, one out of 10 teens had pre-diabetes; right now, [it's] one out of four
- Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, San Francisco General Hospital

"We have yet to mobilize for a public health war, but the time has come to do so," Schillinger said.

"In addition to links between sugar and chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease, physicians also are seeing new diseases they previously didn't have a name for, and hadn't seen in children, including Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease," wrote science journalist Kathleen Masterson of the UCSF digital communications team. "This is a disease of the liver similar to what is seen in alcoholics and, if left unchecked, it can progress into cirrhosis of the liver."

The numbers tell the story.

"To see geriatric issues in kids, like pre-diabetes, is extremely alarming," said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a physician at San Francisco General Hospital. "The numbers are staggering. Ten years ago, one out of 10 teens had pre-diabetes; right now, [it's] one out of four."

The national education goal of the SugarScience project is to bring its scientific research out of medical journals and to the general public, so people can make better choices about their choice of food to eat. Health scientist teams from the University of California/San Francisco, University of California/Davis and Emory University of Medicine are partnering with outreach programs in health departments across the nation.

Christians are too often tempted to spend all their time thinking of others, and neglect themselves, says Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, and author of the best-selling book The Daniel Plan. But without proper attention, a person's body weakens and is less useful for Kingdom work.

"My body belongs to God," Warren wrote in the book that is number 623 of all books sold on Amazon.com; it is number 5 of all Christian books sold by Amazon. "It is His property, not mine. I don't own it; God does.

"He created my body and He expects me to us it the way He intended for it to be used," Warren continued. "Our culture teaches us, 'My body is mine to do whatever I want to with it.' But God says, 'No; you're wrong. It's not your body, because you didn't create it. I made it, and I loaned it to you to live in while I put you on earth, and I expect you to take care of my creation.'"

Christians have a second reason for choosing to live a healthy lifestyle, according to an article on Guidestone.org, a Christian financial services entity.

"It's easy to concentrate so much on your spiritual and mental growth that you neglect your physical health," wrote Roy Hurlburt for Guidestone. "But your physical health is just as vital to your future ministry. It takes stamina to balance the needs of a congregation, the operation of a church and your personal life. So review your risk factors and start today lowering your health risk."