Does Sugar Cause Inflammation and Pain? Everything You Need to Know

by | Oct 10, 2023 | health, Nutrition | 0 comments

Does Sugar Cause Inflammation and Pain? Everything You Need to Know

Inflammation is an important part of the immune response, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Sugar is a potential cause of chronic inflammation. But does sugar cause inflammation and pain? This blog post will review what inflammation is, how sugar promotes inflammation, and tips for reducing your sugar consumption.


Understanding Inflammation

Inflammation refers to a set of signs and symptoms that include swelling, redness, heat, pain, and loss of function caused by stiffness and immobility. It is typically caused by toxic chemicals, certain environmental factors, physical trauma, overuse, or infection.

There are two types of inflammation – acute and chronic. Acute inflammation has a rapid onset (minutes or hours), but typically resolves in a few days. This type of inflammation is an important part of the body’s immune response.

In contrast, chronic inflammation is slow, long-term inflammation lasting months to years. It can result from several different factors, including ongoing infections, long-term exposure to certain chemicals, and autoimmune disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis).

Diseases caused by chronic inflammation are the leading cause of death in the world. Some of the most common diseases caused by chronic inflammation include diabetes, heart diseases, arthritis and joint diseases, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

There are several risk factors for the development of chronic inflammation. They include age, obesity, smoking, stress and sleep disorders, and diet. A diet containing too much saturated fat, trans fat, or refined sugar is associated with an increased production of molecules that promote inflammation. This effect is especially common in people who have diabetes or obesity.


Sugar and Inflammation

The consumption of added sugar has increased significantly in the past 30 years. A growing number of studies link excessive consumption of added sugars with the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

Studies show that excessive consumption of added sugars promotes the release of molecules associated with inflammation, leading to low-grade chronic inflammation. This low-grade chronic inflammation may be caused by several factors, including inflammatory molecules produced by fat tissue, inflammatory molecules produced by the liver, and increased gut leakiness.

One type of sugar that is found in processed foods is fructose. High fructose corn syrup is a common addition to many foods, such as sugar-sweetened beverages. Consumption of excessive amounts of fructose can lead to liver inflammation, as well as inflammation through the body.

Fructose causes these inflammatory effects through changes in the intestines. Studies have found that excessive fructose consumption triggers the movement of microbial substances from the intestinal tract to the circulatory system. It also increases gut leakiness and promotes the release of inflammatory molecules to the liver, which increases inflammation throughout the body.


Sugar and the Gut Microbiota

It’s thought that one of the ways sugars promote inflammation is through changes to the gut microbiota (the community of microorganisms living in your gut).

One mechanism by which sugar can influence the gut microbiota is by reducing microbial diversity. Since microbial diversity is a marker of gut health, reduced microbial diversity leads to poorer gut health. Also, reduced microbial diversity reduces the amount of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) produced. Since SCFAs are known to be anti-inflammatory, reducing the production of them could lead to higher levels of inflammation.

Another way sugar can impact the gut microbiota and inflammation is by increasing gut leakiness. Normally, the gut has a barrier that prevents harmful microorganisms and substances from entering the gut. When the gut barrier becomes leaky, these harmful substances can enter the gut. These substances then trigger an immune reaction and increase the amount of inflammation in the gut.

Overall, excessive intake of added sugars can be extremely detrimental to your overall health because it promotes chronic inflammation. Therefore, it’s important to try and reduce your added sugar intake to reduce your risk of chronic disease.


Long-Term Benefits of Reducing Sugar Intake

There are several long-term benefits of reducing your sugar intake. They include:

  • Weight management. Consuming less added sugar can help with weight loss. Sugars foods and drinks are often high in calories but don’t keep you full for long, which can lead to eating too many calories.
  • Improved heart health. Lowering added sugar intake can reduce the risk factors associated with developing heart disease. High sugar consumption is linked to high blood pressure, inflammation, and unhealthy levels of fats in your blood.
  • Better blood sugar control. Reducing added sugar intake can help stabilize your blood sugars and reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Increased energy levels. Consuming less added sugar can help stabilize blood sugar levels, which prevents energy crashes and provides more consistent energy throughout the day.
  • Improved gut health. Excessive sugar consumption can disrupt the balance of your gut microbiota and increase your risk of developing digestive issues. Cutting back on your sugar intake may promote a healthier gut microbiota.


Strategies to Reduce Sugar Intake

Reducing your sugar intake can be challenging, especially if you’re used to consuming it regularly. Here are five strategies for reducing your sugar intake:

  1. Read nutrition labels. Always check the nutrition label on packaged foods. Pay attention to the “Added Sugars” section and try to choose products with little to no added sugars. Be mindful of different names for sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and agave nectar.
  2. Cook at home. Cooking your meals at home gives you control over the ingredients. You can use healthier sugar alternatives such as stevia or reduce the sugar content in recipes. Experiment with herbs and spices to add flavor to your meals.
  3. Choose whole foods. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and nuts. These foods are naturally lower in added sugars compared to many processed options. When you eat fruits, focus on whole fruits rather than fruit juice.
  4. Stay hydrated with water. Sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and even some fruit juices can contribute significantly to sugar intake. Replace these with water, herbal tea, or sparkling water with a splash of citrus for flavor.
  5. Plan snacks mindfully. If you enjoy snacking, choose healthier options. Instead of reaching for sugary snacks like candies or cookies, choose fresh fruit, yogurt with no added sugar, or a handful of nuts. Preparing healthy snacks in advance can help you avoid reaching for the sugary options when you’re hungry.

Remember, reducing your sugar intake doesn’t mean you have to eliminate it entirely; it’s about making informed choices and being mindful of your overall sugar consumption. Gradually implementing these strategies can help you develop healthier eating habits over time.


Final Thoughts

Excessive sugar intake can fuel inflammation in our bodies, contributing to a wide range of chronic health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Excessive sugar intake can also lead to disruption of the gut microbiota and increased gut leakiness.

By cutting back on added sugars in our diets, you can reduce your risk of developing these chronic conditions. There are several strategies you can use to reduce your sugar intake, including reading food labels, opting for whole foods, and making water your drink of choice.

If you’re struggling to reduce your sugar intake, working with a registered dietitian can provide you with the support you need to make the necessary dietary changes to reduce inflammation and your risk of chronic diseases. Click here to get in touch with us at Blue Tree Nutrition and start your journey to better health.



Meet Valerie

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist - CDN, RDN

My name is Valerie Polley. I am a Indianapolis-based registered dietitian and owner of Blue Tree Nutrition. I consult with clients both local and far away.
I have a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Purdue University and I have been practicing for 20 years.
I thoroughly enjoy helping clients through their gut health journey. I see a range of GI issues including, but not limited to celiac disease, IBS and SIBO. I also specialize in the FODMAP elimination diet.

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