In the caveman days, humans were programmed by survival mechanisms to seek out sugary foods. This is because sugar contains huge amounts of energy and helps with fat storage – both of which were essential back then.
In modern society, most of us are lucky enough to have easy access to food all year round… however, our instinctual urge to enjoy sweet food remains.
This can lead us to eat too much sugar, and in some cases form an addiction. As many of us now know, this causes more harm than good.
Obesity and tooth decay are the two obvious consequences of too much sugar, but there are lots of other effects eating too much sugar can cause.
When we eat sugar, it enters our bloodstream and raises our blood sugar level. A study carried out in 2013 found that high levels of glucose in the blood stressed out the heart and decreased its function. If left untreated, this leads to heart failure.
Another effect of sugar on the heart involves fructose (commonly found in artificially sweetened foods). In high levels, fructose lowers the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol. This can trigger the production of triglycerides, a type of fat that travels from the liver to arteries and increases your risk of heart attack or stroke.
In 2002 a study in California found a worrying link between excessive sugar consumption and brain health. The report noted diets high in sugar affected the neuronal and behavioural plasticity associated with a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This chemical makes it harder for the brain to form new memories.
Our kidneys help to filter our blood, so when our blood is full of sugar this extra work is hard on them. High blood sugar levels are associated with type 2 diabetes, a condition that can compromise kidney function. If left untreated, kidneys could go into failure, requiring a transplant or dialysis.
Diets high in sugar can affect blood flow, which is why it is often linked to erectile dysfunction in men. A study in 2007 also found that too much glucose and fructose could turn off the gene that regulates the levels of testosterone and estrogen – two key sex hormones.
Eating too much sugar can lead to a build-up of fat in the liver. In some cases this fat can cause the liver to become inflamed. If left untreated this will eventually lead to the formation of scar tissue (known as cirrhosis), a condition usually seen in alcoholics.