YOU: What single change can I make in my life that will do my health the most good?
ME: Good question. Are you really willing to make a real change?
YOU: Well I do want to be healthier, but truthfully I don't have a lot of energy to put into this. That's why I am asking for the single thing that will make the most difference.
ME: OK, well I don't know much about you. Can you answer some questions?
ME: Do you have the Standard American Diet, which we refer to by the acronym, SAD? The SAD diet is a modern dietary pattern afflicting American adults and children across the United States with long-term, damaging health consequences. By definition, the Standard American Diet consists of ultra-processed foods, and added sugar.
YOU: Yes, I have the SAD diet.
ME: OK, and what about your exercise? Are you like over 75% of Americans that don't get much exercise at all?
YOU: Yeah, I don't have time to exercise.
ME: No time, eh? A recent study found the average adult American had over 5 hours of leisure time a day. The recommendation for adults is to do a 30 minute brisk walk, 5 days a week, or the equivalent. Most people can fit a 30 minute walk into their 5 hours of leisure time.
YOU: OK, you're right. I guess I just haven't made exercise a priority.
ME: And what about your sleep? Are you like the average American? More than 1 in 3 are sleep deprived and 1 in 20 admit to falling asleep at the wheel in the last month.
YOU: Oh yeah, that's me. I never get to bed on time and can barely get up when the alarm goes off in the morning. I just have too much to do.
ME: In my experience, most sleep deprived people know exactly what they need to do to get better sleep. Like you, for example. You stated in your own answer that you never get to bed on time. Seems like you already know what you need to do to improve your sleep.
YOU: Yeah, I guess.
ME: OK, tell me if I have the right picture.
Your diet is SAD.
You're sedentary: no exercise.
And you're sleep deprived.
You're doing nothing for your health. You are your own worst enemy.
YOU: I'm sorry to say that your picture is very accurate. I really need to make a change. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.
ME: OK. Well, don't be discouraged. In your case, anything we do will help. Because you want to improve your health, I'm assuming you don't smoke, don't inject recreational drugs, don't binge drink, etc.
YOU: That's right.
ME: Well choosing between diet, exercise and sleep is very hard to do, because they all are so important. Maybe we should just start with diet.
YOU: OK, what single change can I make in my diet, that will help me the most?
ME: That, my friend, is very easy. Simply stop eating any food with added sugar.
YOU: Sugar? Why sugar?
ME: Because sugar causes inflammation. And inflammation causes pain and sickness. Inflammation is the underlying cause of most of the illnesses that plague modern society. Inflammation is the cause, or at the very least, contributes significantly to the chronic illnesses that make Americans so miserable.
The fact that sugar is behind so many of our problems is not a secret. We have been warned by published studies for years. For example, in 2002, Dr. Simian Liu with the American Society of Clinical Nutrition published a study that showed that sugar consumption promotes inflammation. If inflammation in your body gets high enough, things will quit working right. Organs will begin to malfunction or quit working altogether, and you will begin to hurt. You may feel pain in your low back, your neck, or that shoulder you injured playing high school football, or you may just begin to ache all over. But your body won't work right, if your inflammation level gets high enough.
YOU: How does sugar increase inflammation and disease?
ME: As you consume more sugar, your body produces more arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is the building block for all of the inflammation in your body. If you decrease the amount of sugar you consume, you will produce less arachidonic acid. Less arachidonic acid means you will have less inflammation and less pain.
YOU: Why aren't we being warned about the dangers of sugar?
ME: We have had lot's of warning. Maybe the better question is: Why hasn't your doctor told you about this? For example Dr. Elissa Epel, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and senior author of a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (2014) said “Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s metabolic control of sugars, but also through accelerated cellular aging of tissues.”
That study looked at aging on a cellular level and found that adults who regularly consumed pop had evidence of increased cellular aging. The amount of premature cellular aging was consistent with an approximate 5 year shorter lifespan than their peers who did not consume sugar-laden soda. This explains why sugar consumption is associated with chronic illness such as heart disease and arthritis. Sugar is literally making the cells grow old and wear out.
YOU: Could sugar actually cause premature death?
ME: Yes! Another recent study answered that question. This study demonstrated that people with diets that promote inflammation -- IE, high in sugar -- are at increased risk for early death. Susan Steck, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina and co-author of the study said, "diet can modify inflammation." Her study included more than 10,500 people who were followed for 16 years.
Those with diets most strongly associated with inflammation were 53 percent more likely to die early than those with the most anti-inflammatory diets. These findings were presented Nov. 7, 2013 at the annual meeting of the American Institute for Cancer Research, in Bethesda, Md.
YOU: Do you think the sugar in my diet is causing some of my problems?
ME: Without a doubt. Here is a quick look at some of the data that answers your question. I will just touch on some of the major health problems people face today.
HEART DISEASE: A study published in JAMA in 2014 showed high sugar consumers had double the risk of dying from heart disease.
CANCER: The Mayo Clinic on their website state: "There is some evidence that consuming large amounts of sugar is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including esophageal cancer. Eating too much sugar can also lead to weight gain and increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, which may increase the risk of cancer."
DIABETES: Dr. Lustig and fellow researchers published a paper showing that for every incremental increase in dietary sugar there is an incremental increase in diabetes. This increase is tied to the sugar and is independent of obesity, age, alcohol and exercise. Added sugar, and only sugar, (no other food), showed this association. Duration and degree of sugar exposure correlated significantly with diabetes prevalence in a dose-dependent manner, while declines in sugar exposure correlated with significant declines in diabetes rates.
INFECTIONS: "Too much sugar in your system allows the bacteria or viruses to propagate much more because your initial innate system doesn't work as well" according to Dr. Michael Roizen, MD who is the head of the Cleveland Clinic. (CNET, Jun 9, 2020) This is pretty interesting in light of the current viral pandemic.
DEPRESSION: A review published last year stated: "Multiple studies have found a link between diets high in sugar and depression. Overconsumption of sugar triggers imbalances in certain brain chemicals. These imbalances can lead to depression and may even increase the long-term risk of developing a mental health disorder in some people."
ANXIETY: Sugar contributes to overall anxiety. “Added sugars cause your blood sugar to go on a rollercoaster ride of spikes and crashes, and with it, your energy also goes up and down,” says Palinski-Wade. “When blood sugar crashes, your mood sours and anxiety levels can spike.” (Jun 11, 2018)
INSOMNIA: According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, sugar consumption causes people to not sleep as deep, to feel less rested in the morning and wake up more often during the night.
ME: Whatever chronic health problem you have, I can show you the studies showing how sugar causes it, or contributes significantly to it.
YOU: Well that pretty much covers it. I'm convinced! I need to quit eating added sugar. Do you think it will really help me?
ME: It will make a remarkable difference. I have 40 years experience helping people get off sugar, and I have seen many, many lives changed for the good, just by giving up sugar. Most patients that give up sugar are truly surprised how much improvement they experience. Unfortunately, I have also had many patients that weren't able or willing to make the change. In our next conversation, we can talk about some successful strategies to get off sugar.
YOU: What would happen if my whole family got off sugar? What if everybody in America got off sugar?
ME: Currently diabetes is 7 fold higher than 50 years ago. Depression and anxiety are up over 500% in the last 30 years, and depression has been proven to be related to inflammation caused by sugar. Asthma has more than doubled since 1980. Chronic migraines increased by 60% in just 9 years and are still climbing. The number of people dying from heart disease is steadily rising, including one-third of all deaths worldwide in 2019. If everybody quit eating sugar, the reduction in these diseases would be stunning!