It’s no secret that sugar can be hazardous to your health. While glucose plays an essential role in energy metabolism and shouldn’t be shunned entirely, the results of sugar overconsumption are clear.
Including a reasonable amount of natural sugar sources (such as fruits, juices, honey, sugary vegetables like carrots and beets) is perfectly healthful for those who don’t already have glucose metabolism issues. But this balanced consumption of sugar is a far cry from the Standard American Diet, which is replete with refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other unhealthy forms of sugar.
We all know that sugar contributes heavily to weight gain (no pun intended), and you may even be aware that sugar suppresses the immune system and leads to chronic inflammation. It’s linked not only with the development of diabetes, but also heart disease and other leading causes of death.
But did you know that sugar undermines your health by depleting your body of essential vitamins and nutrients?
This is because the metabolism of sugar is an energetically complex process, so it causes your body to “recruit” more nutrients than usual to get the job done. Glucose even “competes” with some nutrients, meaning that it takes up space within cells or transport molecules, and blocks them from absorbing beneficial nutrients.
Overconsumption of sugar disrupts nutrient metabolism across the board, but some nutrients are at particular risk for depletion.
Sugar causes these nutrient deficiencies
It should come as no surprise that many of the primary nutrients that sugar depletes are also the nutrients in which people are most often deficient.
Magnesium deficiency is one of the most widespread of all nutrient deficiencies; at least half of all Americans have sub-optimal levels, and some experts posit that the number is closer to 80%. Magnesium is critical for nearly every major bodily function—it regulates glucose and overall energy metabolism, allows for proper nerve and muscle function, and even aids in the synthesis of proteins, bone tissue, and DNA.
But when the blood sugar is too high (because of sugar consumption), the kidneys excrete more magnesium, and stores become depleted. This creates a vicious cycle, since without optimal levels of magnesium, blood sugar levels spiral out of control to an even greater degree.
Vitamin D, another nutrient in which many of us are deficient, has been directly correlated with sugar consumption. Sugar actually increases the expression of enzymes that break down vitamin D and decreases the expression of enzymes that help synthesize it.
Not spending enough time outside is usually blamed for vitamin D deficiency, and while this is certainly another factor, it seems that high-sugar diets are a culprit that simply can’t be overlooked. A mountain of research demonstrates that vitamin D deficiency is linked to a vast array of chronic diseases, so we would do well to keep our levels optimized (aim for between 45-60 ng/ml).
Calcium works in conjunction with vitamin D, and thus is also adversely affected by sugar consumption. Vitamin D allows calcium to do the work of fortifying bones, coagulating blood, and aiding nerve and muscle function. Without it, your body can’t absorb calcium properly, and sometimes it can even end up calcifying your arteries instead of your bone tissue (one of the major risk factors for developing heart disease).
Furthermore, glucose consumption has been shown to increase calcium excretion via the kidneys (meaning that your body gets rid of calcium instead of properly using it).
Vitamin C is not a nutrient deficiency we hear much about, mostly because its utility is greatly misunderstood. The mainstream opinion is that only a small amount of vitamin C is necessary, in order to prevent scurvy. But a growing body of research and clinical experience suggests that higher levels of vitamin C can supercharge the immune system and work wonders for a large variety of ailments.
It should come as very bad news, then, that excess blood glucose blocks the body from being able to utilize vitamin C, because sugar and vitamin C use the same finite transport molecules. This means that even if you’re supplementing with vitamin C, you won’t achieve optimal levels unless you minimize your sugar consumption (and avoid eating any sugar right before taking vitamin C).
Supplementation is a good choice, but cut sugar first
If you consume even a moderate amount of sugar on a daily basis (or have other reasons to believe you may be deficient in these nutrients), consider starting a daily supplementation regimen.
Remember, though: supplements will only be a temporary solution unless you change your dietary habits. You’ll experience real balance when you cut refined sugars, sodas and other sugary drinks, and sweet processed food from your diet.
Supplementation, together with a balanced diet that contains only a reasonable amount of healthful sugar sources, will ensure that your body maintains optimal levels of its key nutrients.