We Live In A World Drugged Out On Sugar, And We’re Silently Paying The Price For It.

thethinkingscientist

Whatever that’s great for business isn’t necessarily that good for human health.

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We face an endless barrage of sugar at every turn. The doughnuts in that picture look great, don’t they?

What about the sugar in ice cream? Other cakes and pastries? Chocolate bars? Fruits? Cereals? Juices and soft drinks?

Wherever we go, we are bombarded by it, much like how scantily dressed women are seen in many different advertisements today.

However, the complication behind it lies in aesthetics and consumer appeal — because that is good for business.

Having high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a sweetener makes for good business sense because it does produce more aesthetically pleasing processed products:

Even beyond cost, the reasons for using HFCS are clear. From breads that are more golden-brown and breakfast bars that are chewier, to creamier yogurts and consistently refreshing drinks, HFCS helps maintain the taste, flavor and texture that consumers have come to demand in a full range of foods. So, while HFCS and sugar have the same number of calories, in terms of finished product, versatility and cost, HFCS simply has no equal.

And not just that — corn is a crop that the United States government heavily subsidises. There is a significant incentive for farmers to grow all that corn… and that corn can then be used as feedstock for HFCS production!

The biochemistry of sugar in the body

Unfortunately, HFCS does contain a high proportion of fructose sugar.

HFCS is manufactured as a solution of sugar in water. They normally produce 42% fructose (HFCS 42) or 55% fructose (HFCS 55) solutions, while the rest of the solution comprises glucose and water.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, HFCS 42 is mainly used in processed foods, cereals, baked goods, and some beverages. HFCS 55 is used primarily in soft drinks.

And that’s where the fun starts.

Glucose exists as 3 different anomers in equilibrium at pH 7 — α-glucose (37%), β-glucose (0.003%), and γ-glucose (63%). The β-glucose anomer contains the reactive carbonyl group that can react with the amino groups on the protein, which we can also term as an aldehyde.

Enzymatic activity in the body will convert fructose into glyceraldehyde. In any case, glucose can also be converted into glyceraldehyde.

When we are overconsuming processed carbohydrates comprising mainly glucose and fructose, the danger is the accumulation of all these aldehyde carbonyls in our bodies.

These aldehydes are highly reactive and can cause the Maillard reaction to occur within our body internally, where the carbonyl group on the sugar/aldehyde reacts with the amino group on a protein:

The Maillard reaction has three stages. First, the carbonyl group of a sugar reacts with an amino group on a protein or amino acid to produce water and an unstable glycosylamine. Then, the glycosylamine undergoes Amadori rearrangements to produce a series of aminoketose compounds. Last, a multitude of molecules, including some with flavor, aroma, and color, are created when the aminoketose compounds undergo a host of further rearrangements, conversions, additions, and polymerizations.

This Maillard reaction is one of the factors that are responsible for the non-enzymatic browning of foods.

The slightly browned potato chip that comes out of a freshly opened pack of potato chips? That’s the Maillard reaction right there. Freshly baked brown bread? Roasted brown coffee? Grilled brown steaks? All that browning comes from the Maillard reaction.

The initial step that sets off the Maillard reaction chain is the reaction of a carbonyl group on a sugar molecule reacting with an amino group on a protein or amino acid.

Have we seen the Maillard reaction happening in our bodies?

Yes, diabetics would be extremely familiar with that concept, even if it isn’t explicitly mentioned.

Because the blood tests that they have to do on their regular medical checkups will look at this thing called the HbA1c.

What the HbA1c test does is that it determines how much hemoglobin (Hb) protein in our blood has been glycated by glucose into HbA1c. Hb is necessary for transporting oxygen through our blood to our cells — HbA1c cannot do that effectively.

The HbA1c test is essentially a test of how much Hb protein in our blood has undergone the Maillard reaction.

How much has Hb protein reacted with the aldehyde in the blood, such that it has turned into a useless glycated protein that cannot transport oxygen through the blood properly?

Essentially, this glycation reaction is a reflection of our body undergoing the Maillard reaction internally. Would it be surprising if people with diabetes were to develop brown spots on their skin, then? (It could also be a melanin issue related to the tyrosinase enzyme, as I explore here.)

So by consuming excessive amounts of dietary carbohydrates…

We’d be risking having too many reactive aldehydes in our blood from metabolizing all that glucose and fructose.

Similarly, chronic excessive alcohol consumption also generates a ton of reactive acetaldehyde that can deal a crapton of damage to the liver.

Is it that surprising why we can see people experiencing fatty liver disease of EITHER the alcoholic OR the non-alcoholic variant?

Because it boils back down to the amount of aldehydes that we have in our blood.

As an aside: what would happen if these aldehydes were to do a Maillard reaction with the amine groups on DNA molecules to force mutations?

Would we not be looking at the potential of cancer development if one’s autophagy mechanism were already faulty?

The next step… inflammation.

These aldehydes are highly reactive. They don’t have to react with proteins.

They can react with other things to spawn other by-products that are collectively known as Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs), which are defined as:

a group of proteins and lipids becoming glycated and oxidized after persistent contact with reducing sugars or short-chain aldehydes with amino group and/or high degree of oxidative stress.

If they existed just as AGEs and did nothing else, then we wouldn’t have to be so concerned about it.

Unfortunately…

Our body also contains RAGEs or Receptors of AGEs. As it is mentioned in this article,

RAGE was discovered as a receptor for advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), such as carboxymethyl lysine (CML). AGEs, the products of nonenzymatic glycation and oxidation of proteins, form to an accelerated degree in hyperglycemia. AGEs, largely via RAGE, activate signaling mechanisms that cause cell stress, contribute to cellular dysfunction, and damage target organs, leading to complications.

When one has hyperglycemia, they would have a higher than usual glucose concentration in their blood, leading to more AGEs.

AGEs signal RAGEs to produce more inflammatory signals, which results in an accelerated transcription of the pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin 1-beta (IL-1β), interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-8 (IL-8), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α).

These four pro-inflammatory cytokines contribute to insulin resistance, where they signal cells in the body to take in less glucose than usual based on the prevailing insulin signal sent out.

Prolonged insulin resistance can lead to the accumulation of glucose in the blood, which we can then term as Type 2 diabetes.

So while it is common knowledge that excessive refined sugar consumption can lead to Type 2 diabetes, the link isn’t as direct asmost of us believe it to be.

But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

There would be an elevated level of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood at the beginning stages from that overconsumption of sugar.

There’d also be a heart health component in all this excess carbohydrate consumption.

It was mentioned in this article that:

the hearts of diabetic mice subjected to ischemia/reperfusion in the isolated perfused mode displayed increased damage as assessed by release of higher levels of lactic dehydrogenase (LDH), reduced ATP levels in the heart, and higher left ventricular developed pressure (LVDP), the latter a marker of cardiac dysfunction, compared to nondiabetic mice, and that in the presence of soluble RAGE or by RAGE deletion, these parameters were greatly improved.

Therefore, the activation of RAGEs by AGEs can directly influence heart issues among people with diabetes.

With reduced ATP levels in the heart, the heart muscle’s ability to generate energy is reduced… wouldn’t that lead to people with diabetes feeling fatigued more easily and having much less stamina than a healthy person?

Long term AGE effects on the body

The deleterious effects of AGEs and RAGE activation are highlighted here.

The AGEs that accumulate in the body are reactive and will also have the propensity to alter the structure of our extracellular matrices (ECMs) via crosslinking.

These ECMs will become stiffer, and their mechanical properties and functions will be affected.

Of course, one of the common ECMs in our body is our joint cartilage — so do you suppose, then, that excessive carbohydrate consumption can eventually lead to the development or complication of osteoarthritis or joint pain issues?

Very likely indeed.

The skin (another ECM) won’t be that supple anymore, either. And that can result in the visible symptoms of premature aging.

The activation of the RAGEs would also result in the upregulation of pro-inflammatory pathways such as the nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) pathway and trigger premature cell apoptosis.

And we’d see a whole mountain of issues appear with all this dysregulated inflammation — of which a summary can be found here.

Unfortunately, what’s good for business isn’t necessarily good for human health.

But if we buy into the idea of de-stressing with these processed foods, they can be great feel-good comfort foods…

Or if we’re lazy to prepare healthy meals, we go after app-based on-demand (unhealthy) food deliveries, such as UberEats, DoorDash, or Deliveroo…

We’d be opening ourselves up to unwanted addictions to these foods.

Which in turn leads us to get all these unwanted aldehyde reactions in our blood.

This, in turn, leads us to the doctor’s office, where we may end up on prescription subscriptions for drugs that are designed to control symptoms but which may not necessarily deal with the root cause of the issue.

But it’s a great business model.

Only if you’re living a lifestyle far away from these addictions… amassing those profits from either the processed food industry side or the pharmaceutical industry side would be pretty lucrative, though!

From a diet perspective, we’d be able to reduce the risk of developing heart disease if we were more careful about consistently including certain nutrients in our diet — but as I listed in 10 Nutrients That Support A Healthy Heart, how many people are even consuming these nutrients in the first place?

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