Sugar: the Immunity Suppressor

Sugar: The Immunity Suppressor. 

 Unless you prefer salt over sugar, you love yourself all things sweet. Nowadays, you can’t watch an advertisement on television or read a healthy eating blog post without the topic of sugar being raised. Fat is in, sugar is out! 

Sugar, also known as dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, sucrose and about forty-nine other known names, has the spotlight shining upon it for its ability to increase our appetite, store body fat and suppress our immune system. I like to call this the terrible trio. This loop of eating sugar, storing body fat and feeling tired and run down, leads to the cycle repeating like a record on its player. Over and over again, we think that sugar is what is going to give us that energy boost and the pick me up we need, when really, it’s only doing our bodies harm. 

 According to Statistics Canada, “in 2004, Canadians consumed 110.0 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 26 teaspoons. This amounted to 21.4% of their total daily calorie intake.”[1] The scary part? That was 16 years ago. Since then, new candies, chocolates, energy drinks, Starbucks creations and tasty treats have been created. That number is likely double what it was in 2004. Take, for example, a 355 mL can of Pepsi contains 41 grams of sugar. A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade, a drink that is targeted for athletes to help them recover, contains 36 grams of sugar. And those little innocent Swedish berry candies you’ve been snacking on at your desk? Those babies pack 28 grams of sugar in one serving! The sad thing is, that is only for one of twenty servings found in the bag - thank you, manufacturers, for producing family-sized bags that lead us to eat far more than the intended serving size! 

When we consume sugar, our pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that helps to regulate the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fat by aiding in the absorption of glucose from the blood into our muscles and liver. Sounds like a good thing, right? It is. Until we take in more sugar than our bodies can handle. Once we’ve filled our body’s glycogen reservoirs, the remaining sugar needs somewhere to go. Say hello to new body fat and the potential for fatty liver disease. Our pancreas works hard to produce adequate insulin to meet our body’s needs, but when it’s overworked and cannot produce enough insulin to offset our sugary meal, our blood sugar levels continue to rise placing us at risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.[2] If only our pancreas and liver were the two organs to take a hit from our sugar binge… Our brains, which are primarily made of fat but love to run on glucose, release dopamine, a feel-good chemical which creates a feedback loop prompting us to continue to eat more and more sugar. Our mood quickly changes and we get a burst of energy due to rising blood sugar levels, only to come crashing down 1-2 hours later. Not only does sugar make us tired and more hungry than when we first started eating, but it also ages us faster! When we consume more sugar than our bodies can handle, the excess sugar attaches to proteins in our bloodstream and creates “AGEs” - advanced glycation end products.[3] These, in turn, shut down the production of collagen, which are crucial for maintaining healthy joints and supple-looking skin. Talk about a double whammy! 

Ready for the punchline? As we prepare ourselves for winter, it is more important than ever to maintain a strong immune system. That being said, there is one thing a small amount of sugar is essential for: to help in the absorption of electrolytes. Just to make it extra confusing! Just kidding, let’s break this down: Glucose aids our bodies in transporting sodium, chloride and water across the intestinal barrier. This is crucial, because the majority of our immune system is hosted within our gut! If we are taking electrolytes without a small amount of sugar, our bodies are unable to absorb the minerals and they are excreted through our urinary system. Ener-C has designed the perfect formulation of electrolytes with a small, healthy serving of sugar to ensure that your electrolytes are absorbed properly and can serve to aid in muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, hydration levels and immunity functions. 

Refined sugar, unfortunately, has no business in the immunity maintenance department. Consuming sugar directly affects the cells in our immune system that target bacteria. Coupled with nutritional deficiencies, we are at a higher risk for contracting colds and viruses.[4] In a study performed with fruit flies in 2018, researchers discovered that “sugar hinders the immune system since white blood cells are not able to do their job and destroy bad bacteria or viruses as well as when someone does not eat sugar.[5]” 

So now that the majority of the foods that you eat on a daily basis have likely been removed from your diet due to their high sugar content, let’s talk about what to replace them with for low sugar alternatives! 

Creating blood sugar balanced meals requires four elements: protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and fibre. Protein, in the form of animal protein or a mixture of beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, will help to fortify your immune system and keep your energy levels consistent throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and starches will give you a healthy dose of natural sugars, vitamins and minerals, in addition to fibre. Healthy fats on the other hand, such as nuts, seeds, oils and fats found in proteins like eggs or salmon, will provide our brains with the nourishment it needs to thrive for the day ahead and serve as an immunity booster!

The next time you reach for your sugary fix, pose this question to yourself. “Is this food worth the energetic lag in 2 hours, the mood swings, compromised immunity and rollercoaster ride for my pancreas, liver and kidneys?” There are no guarantees that it’ll stop you from eating sugar, but I guarantee you you’ll be a lot more conscious of every bite you take and likely eat less as a result!

Lindsay Mustard is a Holistic Nutritionist, Yoga Instructor and recipe-wizard with a burning passion for health and fitness. In her nutrition practice, Lindsay works with clients to craft a unique plan that is tailored to their specific health goals using a natural, whole food and supplement approach.

[1]  “Sugar Consumption among Canadians of All Ages.” Statistics Canada: Canada's National Statistical Agency / Statistique Canada : Organisme Statistique National Du Canada, 21 Sept. 2011
[2] Hughes, Locke. “How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body?” WebMD, WebMD, 17 Dec. 2019.
[3] Hughes, Locke. “How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body?” WebMD, WebMD, 17 Dec. 2019.
[4] Weingus, Leigh. “Can Eating Sugar Weaken Your Immune System? Here's What to Know.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 23 Mar. 2020.
[5] LH;, Yu S;Zhang G;Jin. “A High-Sugar Diet Affects Cellular and Humoral Immune Responses in Drosophila.” Experimental Cell Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018.