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4 Reasons Why Sugar Might Be Damaging Your Health

02/09/2015 | By Freedom Health Insurance
You may have heard stories about how sugar can affect your health, but it can sometimes be difficult to separate the facts from fiction.
We’ve rounded up some information from medical journals and from doctors to explain how sugar could affect your health in the long term so that you can judge the potential risks for yourself. 

1. It can damage your teeth

Consuming sugar is known to have a damaging effect on teeth. The British Dental Health Foundation, an independent charity, explains that sugar from food or drinks reacts with the bacteria that is found in the plaque on teeth for around an hour after it is consumed, creating acids that can destroy enamel(1).
According to a systematic review undertaken on behalf of the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is “widely accepted that sugar is the most important dietary factor in the development of dental caries(2)”. (Dental caries are cavities that are caused by tooth decay.)
The review by WHO looked at several relevant studies that have been published since 1950, and found that there was “’moderate quality’ evidence showing a lower risk of dental decay when sugar intake is less than 10% of calorie intake, compared with more than 10%(2).”

2. It can cause heart problems

According to a study published in Open Heart (an online journal in the USA dedicated to heart studies that is published by the British Medical Journal (3)), an increased level of sugar in diets is linked to cardiovascular disease, the developed world’s primary cause of premature death.
The study also found that naturally occurring sugars in the form of fresh, unprocessed foods like fruit are not concerning, but that added sugars in processed foods could be linked to problems like hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure, which is known to be the most important risk factor of cardiovascular disease), metabolic dysfunction and increasingly varied blood pressure.

3. It may be linked to weight gain

There have been many studies done on the link between sugar and weight gain, but there is still debate in the scientific community as to what the exact connection is, and how much a diet that is high in sugar can affect your weight.
The British Medical Journal published a systematic review(4), which looked at several different studies, to try to collate some of the evidence that has been gathered so far.
The review stated that the “most consistent” link between sugar and weight gain, was a high intake of drinks that had been sweetened with sugar and a development of obesity. However, it also found that reducing the level of sugar alone in diets had a “relatively small” impact on weight, which it said was unsurprising due to how many factors are involved with obesity.
But given the rapid increase in weight that occurs following increased sugar consumption, the study reports that “it seems reasonable to conclude that advice relating to sugars intake is a relevant component of a strategy to reduce the high risk of overweight and obesity in most countries”.

4. It has been linked to diabetes

A systematic review published in the British Medical Journal found that “habitual consumption of sugar sweetened beverages was positively associated with incidence of type 2 diabetes.”(5) The study also concluded that artificially sweetened drinks and fruit juice were not necessarily healthy alternatives to sugary beverages.
While diabetes can be caused by a range of determinants, with risk factors including family history, ethnicity, health and environment(6), this review found that a diet that is consistently high in sugary drinks could also be linked to the disease.
As we mentioned above, a high intake of sugary drinks has also been linked to obesity(4), which in itself can be a cause for diabetes(6).


The important thing to remember is that many of these links are not yet definite, and investigation is still ongoing. However, according to these findings, there could be links between a diet that is high in sugar, and problems with dental and cardiovascular health, as well as diabetes and weight gain.
As several of the systematic reviews by the British Medical Journal found, though, many of the studies that have been done so far could have potentially been swayed by bias and used varying methodology; and problems such as obesity and cardiovascular health are complex, with sugar intake being just one of many potential factors, so definitive results can be difficult to conclude upon.

1. DENTALHEALTH.ORG. Why is a healthy diet important for my oral health? [Online] Available here
2. NHS CHOICES. (2013) Daily sugar intake should be cut, study finds [Online] Available here.
3. OPEN HEART. (2014) The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease [Online] Available here.
4. THE BMJ. (2013) Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies [Online] Available here.
5. THE BMJ. (2015) Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction [Online] Available here.
6. DIABETES.CO.UK. Causes of Diabetes [Online] Available here.