Effect of high sugar intake on diabetes

Over the past decade, the world has witnessed a radical increase in the number of people succumbing to cancer, diabetes among other chronic diseases. The trend has been so worrying that for the first time in history, the United Nations has declared non communicable chronic diseases, a category that diabetes falls under, pose a greater health risk than infectious ones. At the center of this increase is the question of ‘what is to blame for the rise?’ The United Nations identifies diet, tobacco and alcohol as the leading causes for the increase in these types of diseases. While tobacco and alcohol have been regulated, and in some cases banned, worldwide, the issue of dietary preferences is an Achilles heel.

Traditionally, diets containing highly saturated fat were seen to be the cause of diabetes and heart diseases. Industries, especially in the food and beverage sector began substituting fat with sugar in food production to make the food sweet (Malik et al, pp 16). This practice, perhaps occasioned by the lack of proper understanding of the real cause of diabetes turned out to triple the cases of diabetes reported. Research has, however, found out that high sugar intake is the leading culprit in causing these non communicable chronic diseases. Despite this revelation, the global consumption of sugar has increased three-fold over the last half century. Perhaps more worrying is the average sugar consumption in the US which has seen a daily consumption average of 22 teaspoons against a recommended average of 6 teaspoons in adults.

Studies have identified that the global number of obese and overweight people are 600 million and 2 billion respectively. The consequences of having an overweight body are serious and cannot be overlooked because they cause diabetes mellitus and cancer amongst other chronic diseases. Alarmed by the threat of having overweight bodies, which is as a result of having diet with high sugars, scientists have recommended that the sugar intake level be reduced. Research in the US has singled out beverages that are sweetened with sugar as the leading cause of high sugar intake in the diets of Americans. In the past, studies had confirmed the relationship between sugars sweetened beverages and the increase in the number of overweight and obese individuals. The relationship between the sugar intake and the onset of such dise4ases as diabetes, cancer and coronary complications has only been realized lately.

Studies done lately to evaluate the effect of sugar intake on the vulnerability of acquiring diabetes found a direct association between the two. One study, done over the cause of eight years found a higher risk of contracting diabetes among people whose intake of sugars was higher. The study found out that people who took more than one sweetened sugar beverage daily had a risk factor of 83% compared to those that took less than one every month with a lesser risk of 1.83 (Malik, pp 36). The study further found out that the higher the body mass index, the higher the relative risk of succumbing to diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Another study conducted on 70000 women for a period of 18 years found out that women who took between 2 and 3 beverages daily had a 31% likelihood of get diabetes over people that took below one monthly. Although the two studies found out that sugar sweetened beverages directly caused diabetes, it is important to note that the nexus between the two is the body mass index. This fact means that if one’s BMI is maintained at a healthy level, then the effect of sugar intake on diabetes becomes lower.

Although most studies have identified the effect of sugar intake on diabetes through the incidence of weight gain, there is also a likelihood of a direct causative factor. A study done in 2007 found out that the high levels of absorbable carbohydrates including the primary sweeteners may directly cause diabetes. The consumption of high sugar diets has been found to rapidly and dramatically increase the glucose and insulin concentrations in the blood (Palmer et al. pp 17). The effect of this increase is a contributing factor to increased appetite and therefore triggering weight gain. The high glucose level diets are also to blame for the increase in insulin resistance and glucose intolerance among people who take it.

Despite the clear evidence from studies showing that sugar is a villain that causes diabetes, proving that fact has been difficult (Dhingra et al. pp 97). One study substituted the sugar in the diet of its sample with starch to see if there would be any changes in the samples’ metabolisms. The children, aged between 8 and 18 years were given a diet containing the exact calories they would normally consume and were told to eat more of the same if they identified any weight loss. After the nine day period, most of the children had great improvements including the reduction in insulin resistance and became insulin sensitive. After reducing the dietary sugar to 10% of their calorie intake, the fasting blood sugar levels dropped by 53%. The amount of insulin produced in their bodies also decreased owing to the fact that little carbohydrates were available for break down. The children also had lesser fat deposited in their livers. The findings of the study therefore confirmed that lower sugar intake in diets reduces the chance of contracting diabetes and other chronic diseases. The study, however, requires more scientific backing because the improvement in the children’s’ health could also be associated to the weight loss that they experienced. It cannot be independently verified that the improved health was solely resulting from the reduction in sugar intake.

In another study on women, the consumption of high sugar intake was identified as having an increased effect on causing diabetes. The main source of sugars in the diet is found in the sugar sweetened beverages that include soft drinks and sodas. The study observed an increase of about 25% in diabetes incidence among people who consumed more than 2 soft drinks. This percentage was in contrast to those who consumed below one drink monthly. The same trend was seen in people who drank more than two fruit drinks and experiencing a 31% increase in susceptibility.  The explanation for the increase was identified to be weight gain which had a negative implication on contacting of diabetes. Another possible explanation was the glycemic effects of sugar sweetened beverages (Vartanian et al. pp 28).

A review of previous research in regard to this subject supported the above observations. The review, involving more than 310000 participants found an increased risk of diabetes among people who consumed soda, energy drinks and sweetened ice tea. All these fast drinks fall under the category of sugar sweetened beverages and have very high sugar contents that make them taste sweeter.  The duration and level of sugar that one is exposed to was directly related to the prevalence of diabetes. This is to say that lower levels of sugar exposure led to lower rates of contracting diabetes.

The regulation of sugar intake presents an important opportunity in combating and controlling the prevalence of diabetes. The idea of this regulation is in order to improve insulin sensitivity and reduction of blood pressure. Particularly, these measures should be focused among the young and adolescent children who are more vulnerable to weight gain and obesity. It is time that the government considered public policy approaches to curb this spread including through taxation.


Works cited

Palmer, Julie R., et al. “Sugar-sweetened beverages and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus in African American women.” Archives of internal medicine 168.14 (2008): 1487-1492.

Dhingra, Ravi, et al. “Soft drink consumption and risk of developing cardiometabolic risk factors and the metabolic syndrome in middle-aged adults in the community.” Circulation 116.5 (2007): 480-488.

Vartanian, Lenny R., Marlene B. Schwartz, and Kelly D. Brownell. “Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” American journal of public health 97.4 (2007): 667-675.

Malik, Vasanti S., et al. “Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes A meta-analysis.” Diabetes care 33.11 (2010): 2477-2483.



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