Too much sugar doesn't directly weaken your immune system, but consuming too many calories can (2023)

  • There is no scientific evidence that consuming too much sugar directly weakens your immune system.
  • However, sugary foods and drinks are high in calories, and too many calories can affect immune function.
  • High-sugar processed foods are often lacking in fiber, which is important for maintaining a healthy microbiome, which also plays a key role in immune function.
  • While eating too much sugar may not directly affect your immune system, consuming too many calories from processed foods and drinks can indirectly weaken immune function.
  • This article wasmedically examinedVonDavid S. Seres, MD, Director of Medical Nutrition and Associate Professor of Medicine,Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
  • Check out the Insider Health Reference Library for more tips.

Excess sugar has been linked to a number of adverse health effects, includingobesity,Prediabetes, Yfatty liver disease. However, the notion that sugar weakens the immune system is shaky at best. And scientists say that the role of sugar is much more complicated.

involves sugar

The idea that sugar weakens the immune system probably arose in the early 1970s when alearnwas published reporting that phagocytes, a species ofleukocytethat kill bacteria and pathogens were less active in people who had recently consumed sugar or sugary foods, such as honey and orange juice. Measurements were taken within 5 hours of sugar consumption.

However, over the past 4.5 decades, the results of this study have yet to be replicated and there are no other studies showing that sugar directly affects the immune system. In fact, the average healthy adult will cleanse their system of simple sugars in two hours, she says.Peter Mancuso, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Michigan.

“Only in people with diabetes could [blood sugar] be high enough to affect immune function. Even a liter of Coke a day probably wouldn't hurt immune function," Mancuso says.

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Sugar, Inflammation and Immune System

The role of sugar in immunosuppression is more related to total caloric intake. "If you're consuming too much sugar, you may also be consuming too many calories, which leads to obesity," Mancuso says. "[This] is associated with a chronic condition of mild inflammation."

It is believed that chronic inflammation could overwhelm your immune system because the body is already fighting an ongoing battle against inflammation, making it less able to respond to other threats. That canimpair the function of cells and organs, which increases the risk of a variety of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.

Some research shows aMortgagebetween consuming fructose, a component of table sugar derived from sugar cane and beets, with asthma, chronic bronchitis and arthritis. However, the associations should be interpreted with extreme caution as they do not prove cause and effect.

To this point, Mancuso says, "studies showing associations between certain levels of sugar intake and inflammation may not explain the lack of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, which are known to reduce inflammation."

Poor diet can play just as important a role in chronic inflammation as excess sugar. And since we don't generally eat pure sugar, with the exception of some sweetened beverages, it's hard to tell the difference between them.

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Sugar and the microbiome

New research on the healthy bacteria that support your immune system, calledmicrobiome, also offers clues about how eating too much sugar instead of healthier foods could affect immunity, he saysCarolina Childs, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Southampton in England, who investigates the effect of diet on immune function.

One70% of our immune systemit is related to monitoring and responding to our gut bacteria. “They grow different colonies depending on their diet. These bacteria thrive on the waste products of our food, and their favorite food is fiber,” says Childs.

Intestinal bacteria help convert fiber into short-chain fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. They also help the body make vitamins, even up to86% of our daily requirement of vitamin B6, which plays an essential role in supporting the immune system. So if we trade fiber for sugar, we're missing out on the immune-boosting benefits these microorganisms offer us.

Researchers are still studying how a healthy microbiome affects overall health, but previous studies support the idea that a healthy diet plays a key role.

How much sugar is too much?

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionrecommendsthat added sugar represents no more than 10% of your daily calories. Still, Americans consumeapproximately 15%of your daily calories from added sugars, most of which come in the form of sugary drinks and cereals.

They are often referred to as "empty" calories because they do not add nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals to your diet. Processed foods often contain large amounts of added sugar. That's why it's important to look at labels for added sugars.

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A single serving ofHoney Walnut Cheerioscona cup of skimmed milkFor example, it contains 20 grams of added sugar, or 4% of a 2,000-calorie diet. Or, if you're a fan of Starbucks, a Grandecaramel frappuccinocontains 55 grams of sugar. That's 220 calories, or 11% of a 2,000-calorie diet, over the recommended limit.

If you eat sugar, choose whole foods

Eating more whole, unprocessed foods instead of sugary ones ensures you're getting important nutrients and fiber.

Although the fruit has sugar, it also contains it.Stages, which slows down the rate of digestion and keeps blood sugar levels more stable. This is why a dessert after a meal, preferably with lots of vegetables, is better for the body and teeth than just sweets.

"Fiber is nature's balance system," he says.Ian Myles, immunologist and director of medical research at the National Institutes of Health. For example, if you eat an apple, it contains fiber, which can counteract the inflammatory effects of sugar. But when you juice that apple, "you're removing the fiber and the balancing effect is lost," says Myles.

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Avoid artificial sweeteners.

However, replacing artificial sweeteners can cut calories.Investigationit has actually linked them to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. It's still not clear why, but these additives can change the way we process food and make us crave real sugar. there's alsosome advicesin animal studies that consumption alters intestinal bacteria, with unknown health effects.

It's probably best to stick with sugars from whole foods like fruits and vegetables in small doses, says Childs: "Maybe we should start thinking of sugary treats as something we eat less of every day. We could think of Coca-Cola. So It's how we think of champagne, something we don't drink every day."

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stacy lu

Stacy Lu is a healthcare journalist from the Washington, D.C. area. She has written for the New York Times, Forbes, NBC News, HuffPost and others on topics ranging from the effects of placebos to embryo adoption. she keeps following herGoreand seemore of his work.

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Too much sugar doesn't directly weaken your immune system, but consuming too many calories can? ›

While eating too much sugar might not directly affect your immune system, it could indirectly weaken immune function if you're consuming too many calories from processed foods and beverages.

Does eating too much sugar affect your immune system? ›

Studies have shown spikes in sugar intake suppress your immune system. When your immune system is compromised, you are more likely to get sick. If you eat a lot of foods and beverages high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, which the body processes as sugar, you may be reducing your body's ability to ward off disease.

What happens to your body if you eat way too much sugar? ›

Eating too much sugar can contribute to people having too many calories, which can lead to weight gain. Being overweight increases your risk of health problems such as heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.

How much sugar does it take to weaken your immune system? ›

How much sugar does it take to weaken your immune response. This nutrition study shows that it takes about 75 grams of sugar to weaken the immune system. And once the white blood cells are affected, it's thought that the immune system is lowered for about 5 hours after.

What happens to your body when you eat too much sugar and carbs? ›

"The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Hu.


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