Sugar's Effect on Your Immune System
and How Fresh Foods Can Help
"If you plant Twinkies in your body garden, how do you expect to harvest health?" ~Terri Guillemets
Sugar and junk foods can produce a burst of energy and feel comforting in the short term. That's why we go for them when stressed, bored, sad, or short on time. The pain-killing effect of sugar comes from the release of endorphins in your body when you eat the sweets. Endorphins are a morphine-like chemical your body naturally circulates when you exercise, are excited, or eat sweet or spicy foods. Despite how good you feel right after eating sweets, I'll bet you didn't know that sugar has a direct and dramatic effect on your immune system for hours after you eat it!
According to a 1973 study done by Loma Linda University, when you eat 100 grams of sugar, about as much sugar as you find in a 1 liter bottle of soda, your white blood cells are 40 percent less effective at killing germs. You can cripple your immune system for up to 5 hours after eating sugar! Glucose, fructose and sucrose all significantly decreased the activity of neutrophils to engulf bacteria! (Neutrophils are the "first responders" of white blood cells when there are invading microbes.) 1.
Sugar impacts your white blood cells by competing for space in those cells with Vitamin C. When Linus Pauling did research in the 1970s to find out how the body uses Vitamin C, he discovered that white blood cells need Vitamin C to destroy bacteria and viruses. Sugar and Vitamin C are similar in their chemical structure. When you eat sugar, it directly competes for space in your immune cells with Vitamin C! The more sugar in your system, the less Vitamin C can get into your white blood cells. Sugar DOES NOT help your immune system fight infection at all, resulting in a weakened defense from infections.
The tricky thing with sugar is that we are naturally set up to seek it out - in fact, human breast milk is sweet! In an orange or carrot, the sugar is packaged with nutrients, water, and fiber that help you digest it. When you strip the vitamins and minerals from corn to make high fructose corn syrup, your body has to take nutrients from your bones, skin, and vital systems to break down the concentrated sweetener. Your kidneys will stimulate more urine production to water down the sugar, which is dehydrating and speeds up signs of aging and disease.
So the best thing to do is to stop eating sugar and increase your intake of high quality, natural Vitamin C. Try our Acerola Cherry Organic Freeze-Dried Powder, A Natural Plant Source of Vitamin C which can be added to water, juice, fruit bowls, yogurt or chia pudding.
Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to get immune boosting benefits from Vitamin C and other phytonutrients found in fresh raw foods. The colors of produce give you a clue for how they help the immune system.
Dark greens like kale and spinach contain beta carotene and Vitamin E that help your body fend off cold and flu infections.
Fresh red and pink produce like tomatoes, strawberries and pink grapefruit are especially high in Vitamin C.
Choose orange-colored fruits and vegetables like carrots and papaya to get more beta carotene, the precursor your body turns into Vitamin A. This nutrient helps your immune system by supporting healthy lungs and lymph.
Don't overdo it on sugars considered healthy either! Fruit juice is not as beneficial as whole fruit with its fiber, and can be too much in terms of sugars. In the Loma Linda study, 100 grams (about 1/3 cup) of honey or orange juice also depressed the immune system!
Don't stress out if you find it hard to immediately throw out the sugar and load up on fresh greens, whole fruits and veggies. Diet changes take time, and if you want your new healthy habits to stick, be persistent as you try switching out a large salad for that soda and chips (check ingredients), fast food sandwich and sweet dessert at lunch. If you normally eat sweet, processed foods like donuts for breakfast, try replacing it with eggs, mixed fresh fruit and nuts, or a smoothie with greens, and see how much better you feel over time.
Your taste buds will need a few weeks to get used to changes in what you're eating. Your body will get over the cravings, which are actually a symptom of the deficiencies of empty foods, once you have nourished your body well for a time. As the empty foods leave your body, and you consistently offer new fresh foods with adequate nutrients, cravings will stop. In the long term, the more fresh whole foods you eat, the more energy you'll have and the stronger your immune system will be.
1. Sanchez, A., et al. Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Nov 1973;261:1180_1184
One easy way to start improving your nutrition fast, is to add essential superfood nutrition in a concentrated form for rapid assimilation. Stop feeling so hungry by using Vital Nutrition Plus every day. This whole food supplement includes immune-boosting superfoods like spinach leaves, chlorella, spirulina, dulse seaweed, barley and wheat grass, beetroot, rose hips, and orange and lemon peels (did you know the peels contain more Vitamin C and bioflavinioids than the inner fruit?) and even more, to give you minerals and healthy plant proteins for energy.
This superfood powder is easy to add to your juices and smoothies. You should feel the nutritional boost in 15 minutes! It is unsweetened, so it goes great in savory dips and salads too. You can add a Tablespoon to hummus for example or see our recipes for other ways to add Vital Nutrition Plus to foods.
Other great ways to reactivate your immune system can be found here in herbal Immune System Support.