The spell of sweet poison

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sugarSugar is everywhere. Not just in our food. It is also making headlines around the world. With the recent screening of That Sugar Film in Hamilton, it is particularly topical.

This month, whole foods coach and food writer Deborah Murtagh expresses her thoughts on what many refer to as the sweet white poison.

Treating yourself or your children to a little candy or cookie is like treating them to a little poison. A single sugar hit impacts DNA and leaves us vulnerable to a myriad of diseases.

After reading this you may want to rethink sugar habits in your home and reconsider just how healthy it is to consume a hit of a drug that is said to be more addictive than cocaine.

Sugar consumption and costs in NZ

The average New Zealander consumes six times the daily intake recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Each year we are consuming an average of 54kg of sugar, equivalent to 148gm or 37 teaspoons per day.  That’s a horrifying amount.

For those of you who have seen the new documentary That Sugar Film, the experiment on the damaging effects sugar had on Damon Gameau in just 60 days was based on a mere 40 grams per day, well below our average consumption.

If you haven’t yet seen this documentary, I highly recommend you do.

While sugar hits headlines all around the world, research into the effects of sugar has been underway for decades.  Like Big Tobacco, Big Sugar will do its finest to hold its position in the marketplace by suppressing or overshadowing evidence of its danger through funding studies that support its supposed ‘safety’.

All while continuing to market and sell and disguise this addictive poison, not only in junk foods, but also in ‘health’ foods.
While consumers continue to remain under sugar’s seductive spell, it is now considered that this drug is more addictive than cocaine or tobacco and will continue to impact DNA for generations to come. Sugar is quite literally killing us.

Sugar and epigenetics

Epigenetics is a new science that proves how environment plays a critical role in genetic expression and therefore health.  The old science stated that our genes were hard wired and dictated health.

However this theory has since been disproved, as there are a number of factors involved with genetic expression. We are each born with more than 30,000 different genetic potentials.

What we now know is that our environment turns genes on and off.  Sugar is one of the major dietary factors involved with altered or damaged epigenetic expression.

A single sugar hit causes DNA disruptions for 14 days. However, regular poor eating habits, consisting of high levels of sugar and carbohydrates may amplify the effect, with genetic damage lasting months and even years and is potentially being passed on through generations.  Sugar attacks our DNA and alters genetic expression and even transforms our genetic code.

To understand how this occurs, let’s quickly look at basic biology.  The human body consists of roughly 50 trillion human cells and 100 trillion bacteria.  (Yes you read correctly, we are more bacteria than human).

Within each of our human cells is the ‘brain’ of the cell called the nucleus, and within the nucleus is our DNA.

At the ends of our DNA molecules are telomeres. Telomeres may be protective against cancer, death, and ageing itself; anything that harms telomeres could put us at substantial risk.

One of the major ways to alter telomere function and DNA is through diet.  Data from the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Ageing found that higher blood sugar levels result in more damage to the telomere and its associated DNA.

Therefore what we eat plays a crucial role in health and even ageing itself.

Sugar has been proven to cause

  • Heart disease and high cholesterol
  • Fatty Liver, or NAS
  • Diabesity (Diabetes and obesity)
  • Altered immune functioning leading to recurrent common illness and chronic diseases
  • Premature death
  • Brain disorders such as ADHD, dementia, Alzheimer’s
  • Premature ageing
  • Inflammation leading to excessive pain from conditions such as arthritis

The gut and the brain

Apart from telomere damage, sugar consumption also feeds pathogenic (harmful) microbes in our body, damaging our immune system and causing inflammation. Inflammation is the cause of nearly all diseases.

The human gut contains varieties of yeasts and more than 100 trillion bacteria that together make what is termed the human microbiome.

Dr David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, is a neurologist and fellow of the American College of Nutrition.

In his latest book, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Health and Protect Your Brain-for Life, he explores that the quality, quantity and composition of the bacteria in our gut have enormous influence on our brain.

He states that the hundred trillion bacteria that live within the gut are so intimately involved in brain function on a number of levels. They manufacture neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin for example, and also make important vitamins that keep our brain healthy.

They also maintain the integrity of the lining of your gut. This is important when we know that when our gut lining becomes compromised, we end up with gut permeability or leaky gut.

This increases inflammation, which is at the cornerstone of virtually all brain disorders, from Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) to Parkinson’s, autism and even depression.

Our changing gut bacteria

Another important factor is that gut microbiome is a major driver of genetic expression, turning on and off genes depending on which microbes are present.

“The gut microbiome is 99 percent of the DNA in your body, and it is highly responsive and changeable based upon lifestyle choices, most importantly our food choices,” Dr. Perlmutter says.

“There’s this beautiful dance that happens between gut bacteria and our own DNA. The gut bacteria actually influenced the expression of our 23,000 genes.  Think about that.  The bugs that live within us are changing our genome expression moment to moment.

“Our genome has not changed over thousands of years.

“But now, suddenly, because we’re changing our gut bacteria, we are changing the signals that are going to our own DNA; coding now for increasing things like free radicals, oxidative stress, and inflammation.  That is a powerful player in terms of so many disease processes.”

Protecting your forgotten organ by avoiding sugar

Quite clearly this all confirms just how vital diet and lifestyle factors are in preventing and fighting illness.

However the point here is prevention. If we work to protect our microbiome, we can prevent disease.

Often referred to as ‘the forgotten organ’, microbiome are adversely effected by the following:

  • Stress
  • Poor diet, including sugar, GMOs, non organic foods
  • Antibiotic use, the contraceptive pill, anti-inflammatories and other regularly ingested pharmaceutical drugs
  • Use of artificial sweeteners including aspartame, 950, 951. Yes artificial sugars cause gut damage too
  • Excessive alcohol

As a young practitioner in natural medicine, I knew about the importance of gut health 20 years ago.  I fastidiously raised my three daughters protecting their immune systems through gut health protection from the time they were born.

Now aged 8, 15 and 18, I am proud to say that not a single dose of an antibiotic has been used by my children.  Instead I used natural medicine and a traditional diet rich in probiotics to prevent illness.

I nursed them through temperatures allowing their body to heal itself rather than reaching for Pamol, which only drives infections deeper, and prolongs illness.  I avoided anti-bacterial products in the home, and didn’t subscribe to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which has also been disproven.

At all cost I protected their gut and this has paid off hugely.  I am grateful to see mainstream science is catching up to what naturopaths have known for decades.

That what we eat impacts ALL areas of health and the human body.  The most important organ to protect, nourish and nurture is your microbiome, and you begin by avoiding refined sugars.

How to feed your microbiome

  • Consume a traditional diet low in sugars, low grain, higher fat diet. Coconut oil is particularly good for gut health.
  • Consume probiotic and cultured foods such as raw sauerkraut, lacto-fermented pickles, kombucha tea, natural ginger beer and cultured whole milk dairy such as unsweetened yogurt and milk kefir
  • Consume prebiotics and high fibre foods that house and feed healthy bacteria
  • Take a daily probiotic
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