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Sugar and Heart Attacks

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article published on page 21 in the March 5, 2014 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

We are living in a society faced with an onslaught of new food products daily. Agricultural industrialization has given large conglomerates the ability to wreak profits by selling us cheap but calorie loaded products with added sugars and healthy labels designed to appease our guilt. It has always bewildered me why the Canada Food Guide does not include a sugar maximum.

Sugars come in many varieties and forms. Beet and Cane sugar were the added sugar culprits in my youth, but now High Fructose Corn Syrup, an even cheaper substance leached from corn in vats of chemicals has largely taken over. We knew that added sugars were linked to diabetes, dental caries and obesity, and now heart disease joins the list.

Massive amounts of added sugars have appeared in our diets so quickly, and we are not designed to handle it well. Glucose is a simple sugar and the main energy unit needed by our cells. It can be stored in a stable form as a starch and as part of fats. Table cane sugar is sucrose. It has two rings which the body splits into glucose for energy. Lactose is a two-ring milk sugar. Some people lack the enzyme to split it for absorption. We call them lactose intolerant, and the unsplit sugar remains in the gut, gets digested by bacteria and produces methane gas and cramping.

Sugars have a tendency to draw water towards them so that trying to store large amounts of glucose in a cell would cause it to burst. Plants convert glucose into starch, and store it usually in their roots and seeds, e.g. rice and potatoes. When we eat these starches, our digestive tract converts it back to glucose. It is better to eat foods that digest and convert slowly to ensure a steady supply. If too much glucose is present in the blood, our bodies make their own type of starch called glycogen, which gets stored in the liver and muscle for later use. We generally carry a two-day supply. This glycogen gets used up during starvation, and we "hit the wall". A feeling of tiredness and a true lack of energy ensues.

Whatever sugar you eat gets absorbed and goes to the liver for conversion to usable glucose. During this process, less desirable intermediate products get formed, and can cause the liver production of Triglycerides to increase and the healthy HDL particles to fall. This can lead to plaque formation in the vessels of the heart.

In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that we reduce our added sugars to about 12 gm a day or 10% of our caloric daily intake. In simple terms, we eat about 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily, and should be reducing this down to 12. This is a very difficult task, since much of the added sugar is added in the factory. Try to eliminate extra sugar and you will soon discover that it truly does have us hooked.


Related resources:

Eggs Don't Cause Heart Attacks --- Sugar Does by Mark Hyman, MD. "It's sugar, not fat, that causes heart attacks ... A rigorously done new study shows that those with the highest sugar intake had a four-fold increase in their risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intakes. That's 400%! Just one 20-ounce soda increases your risk of a heart attack by about 30%."

Too much sugar linked to fatal heart disease, even in those who are not obese from CBS News. "... a growing body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that limiting sugar intake can lead to healthier, longer lives."

Sugar and Cardiovascular Disease by Barbara V. Howard, PhD and Judith Wylie-Rosett, RD, EdD. American Heart Association Scientific Statement. "The average US sugar utilization per capita on the basis of food disappearance data was 55 kg (120 lb) per year in 1970, and it reached 68 kg (150 lb) per year in 1995 (almost 0.5 lb per day) ... Yudkin and colleagues in the 1960s and 1970s found that a higher intake of sugar was associated with increased CVD in both within-country and cross-country comparisons ... No data suggest that sugar intake per se is advantageous, and some data suggest it may be detrimental. The studies ... indicate that high sugar intake should be avoided. Sugar has no nutritional value other than to provide calories."

Eating too much added sugar may be killing you by Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY. "A new study finds that added sugar increases your risk of death from heart disease ... Consuming too much added sugar - in regular soda, cakes, cookies and candy- increases your risk of death from heart disease, according to a new study ... 'The risk of cardiovascular disease death increases exponentially as you increase your consumption of added sugar,' says the study's lead author, Quanhe Yang, a senior scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On average, adults in the USA in 2010 consumed about 15% of their daily calories - about 300 calories a day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet - from added sugars. That's far more than the American Heart Association's recommendation that women consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar; and men consume no more than 150 calories a day, or about 9 teaspoons. The World Health Organization recommends consuming less than 10% of calories from added sugars."

Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease by Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter. "Over the course of the 15-year study, participants who took in 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar. Overall, the odds of dying from heart disease rose in tandem with the percentage of sugar in the diet - and that was true regardless of a person's age, sex, physical activity level, and body-mass index (a measure of weight).

Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are by far the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American's diet. They account for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume as a nation. Other important sources include cookies, cakes, pastries, and similar treats; fruit drinks; ice cream, frozen yogurt and the like; candy; and ready-to-eat cereals ...

Federal guidelines offer specific limits for the amount of salt and fat we eat. But there's no similar upper limit for added sugar ... American Heart Association's recommendation ... women consume less than 100 calories of added sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons) and men consume less than 150 per day (about 9 teaspoons). To put that in perspective, a 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar, so quaffing even one a day would put all women and most men over the daily limit."

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