If ever there was a time to cut down on sugar, no time is better than during a pandemic. Aside from frequent hand washing and self-quarantining, one of the best steps you can take to keep your immune system strong is eliminating added sugars as much as possible.
Simply put, consuming a diet rich in added sugars weakens your immune system. This post will cover the many ways in which sugar negatively impacts immune response.
The Link Between Sugar & the Immune System
Back in 1973, this study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined how simple sugars affected white blood cells called neutrophils. Neutrophils circulate in the bloodstream. When an infection is present, neutrophils act like first responders. They migrate to the site of the infection. At the infection site, they kill the invading microbes.
After subjects in the 1973 study consumed the given simple sugars, an interesting thing happened.
You know how after consuming a bunch of sugar you get an energy crash? Well, essentially, that’s what the neutrophils experienced. Instead of being heroic first responders, they called in sick to work. They were sluggish.
Not all Carbs are Bad for the Immune System
If you eat healthy-ish grains, there’s good news from this study. The researchers emphasized that the noticeable effects of weakened neutrophil response occurred only with simple sugars, but not with starches. That being said, it’s best not to consume quick-burning starches such as mashed potatoes. If you’re going to eat starches, opt for nutrient-dense varieties like wild rice, quinoa and einkorn (ancient, heirloom wheat).
Fasting & Immunity
The year 1973 far predated the intermittent fasting trend. However, the study foretold one of intermittent fasting’s greatest benefits (other than easy weight loss). Fasting, the researchers observed, led to greater infection-fighting ability of white blood cells.
Sugar & Cancer Cells
Another reason to cut down on sugar is its effect on cancer cells. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. And cancer cells depend on glucose for survival. What foods contain glucose? Lots of them: bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, sugar, yogurt, milk, etc. Considering the human body converts 100% of carbs into glucose, that’s a lot of fuel provided by the Standard American Diet for cancer cells to feast on.
Sugar & Stress Hormones
When you feast on sugary snacks, your digestive system’s ability to break down fats and proteins (and other carbs) is weakened. Furthermore, excess sugar consumption can lead to an excess of cortisol (stress hormone) production. Both of these factors can lead to weight gain and suboptimal immune function.
Glucose’s Effect on Antioxidants
Disease-fighting antioxidants don’t just come from the foods you eat. Your body contains endogenous (internal) antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase that fight viral attacks as well as harmful bacteria and fungal infections. But when you eat way too much sugar, it causes your internal antioxidants to slack off (just like the neutrophils). Also, excess sugar leads to antioxidants from the food you eat to leech out of your body.
Hours-Long Immunosuppression, Post-Sugar Consumption
Drinking the equivalent of two cans of soda has been shown in research studies to suppress the immune system for up to six hours. (The most noticeable negative effects on the immune system occur at about the two-hour mark.) Now, remember those harmful-bacteria-scavengers called neutrophils from above? Well, it turns out simple sugars cause a 50% reduction in the ability of white blood cells like neutrophils to engulf harmful bacteria.
Sugar & Inflammation
According to a study in the journal, Nutrients, dietary sugar consumption contributes to increased inflammatory processes in humans. One of the reasons why, researchers speculate, is that free fatty acids (FFA) get metabolized in the liver, which produces toxicity and free-radical damage.
Insulin & Immunity
The more added sugars you eat, the more insulin hormone your pancreas needs to secrete to keep blood sugars stable. However, when blood sugar levels become chronically elevated, this can cause immune cells in abdominal fat release chemicals that promote inflammation. These pro-inflammatory chemicals lead to increased insulin resistance.
Low Sugar Diets Support a Healthy Immune System
Great news if you’re a mouse and following a ketogenic diet! Researchers at Yale University were deemed better able to fight off influenza virus than their high-carb rodent peers. Mice fed a ketogenic diet and infected with the influenza virus had a higher survival rate than mice on a high-carb diet.
Obviously, you’re not a mouse. But the research for keto dieters is promising. The researchers concluded that low-fat diets better activate immune T cells in the lungs, thereby enhancing mucus production from airway cells that can effectively trap the virus.
Miracle Noodle & Immunity
Consuming Low Carb Miracle Noodles instead of regular pasta or rice can slash hundreds of grams of carbs from your diet every week. And research studies (like this one) demonstrate that including Miracle Noodles in your diet contributes to several benefits such as increased insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol and weight management, all of which may contribute to a more robust immune system.