People with diets rich in refined sugar may be increasing their risk of chronic inflammation. Research suggests that when people eat and drink less sugar, inflammatory markers in their blood decrease.
A high sugar diet can have harmful effects on health, such as increasing the risk of chronic diseases, weight gain, and tooth decay. It can also result in chronic inflammation, where the body’s immune system activates, resulting in damage to healthy cells.
Inflammation resulting from lifestyle factors, such as obesity, smoking, and a sedentary existence can contribute to a range of diseases. These include heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
In this article, we review the research on sugar and chronic inflammation. We also discuss ways to reduce inflammation naturally.
Sugar and inflammation
Research suggestsTrusted Source that diet can have a significant impact on inflammation in the body — some foods increase inflammation, while others reduce it. A diet high in sugar might be a key factor contributing to chronic inflammation.
A systematic review from 2018Trusted Source reported that several studies have linked consuming more dietary sugar — especially from sugary drinks — with chronic inflammation. People with higher sugar diets have more inflammatory markers in their blood, including a marker called C-reactive protein.
A 2014 studyTrusted Source showed that people who reduced their intake of sugar sweetened drinks had lower inflammation factors in their blood. These findings support the theory that sugar consumption can cause inflammation.
Researchers have tried to determine how sugar causes inflammation. Sugar stimulates the production of free fatty acids in the liver. When the body digests these free fatty acids, the resulting compounds can trigger inflammatory processes.
Different kinds of sugar may contribute more or less to inflammation. For instance, some research has suggested that fructose may cause more inflammation than glucose. However, a systematic reviewTrusted Source found no difference in inflammation from fructose and glucose, so more research is needed.
Also, the researchers saw no differences in inflammatory factors between the groups that consumed high fructose corn syrup vs. sucrose. The sample sizes were small, and the quality of the studies was low, so more research is necessary to confirm these findings.
People may develop the following common signs and symptomsTrusted Source from chronic inflammation:
depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders
constant fatigue and insomnia
constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, and other digestive issues
People with chronic inflammation may have an increased riskTrusted Source of diabetes, depression, and dementia.
Chronic inflammation in older adults may also have links with a higher risk of death. Doctors are working on how to reduce chronic inflammation.
What other foods cause inflammation?
Along with sugar, other foods can also increase inflammation in the body.
Researchers suggest that diets high in saturated and trans fatsTrusted Source can lead to a higher risk of chronic inflammation.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, foods that cause inflammation include:
sugary foods, including desserts, pastries, chocolate, and sodas
saturated fats, such as in red meat, full fat dairy products, and many rich desserts
trans fats, including in fast food, fried foods, cookies, and donuts
excess omega-6 fatty acids that are in corn oil, sunflower oil, and vegetable oil
refined carbohydrates, including some breads, white rice, and white potatoes
MSG in prepared Asian foods, soy sauce, and many prepared soups and deli meats
Having diabetes, being overweight, having obesity, and eating high levels of saturated fats, trans fats, and refined sugar are all risk factors for chronic inflammation.
How else does sugar affect the body?
Sugar has many long term effects on the body, including increasing the risksTrusted Source of chronic inflammation, obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
Sucrose and fructose can lead to plaque formation on a person’s teeth, decay, and cavities. Bacteria that cause cavities use sugar as food. Diets rich in sugars allow the bacteria in the mouth to grow and erode tooth enamel.
Drinking sugar sweetened drinks can add a lot of calories to the diet but do not make the person feel full. This short term increase in calories can lead to long term weight gain. Instead, calories from solid foods make people feel fuller and reduce overeating.
Natural ways to reduce inflammation
StudiesTrusted Source have shown that eating less sugar can reduce inflammation, so people should aim to limit their sugar intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly recommend a maximum sugar intake of less than 10% of daily energy intake.
Eating only 5% of daily calories from sugar may have added health benefits, the WHO say. For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, the maximum from sugar would be 100 to 200.
Ways to reduce inflammation in the body include:
Getting enough sleep. Improving sleep hygiene and getting better sleep may decrease the risk of developing chronic inflammation.
Quitting smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including chronic inflammation.
According to the Nationwide Food Consumption SurveysTrusted Source in the United States, the amount of high fructose corn syrup people consume increased from 1978 to 1998 and then stabilized. With greater awareness of the risks of added sugar, sugar intake in the U.S. has been declining. However, people are still consuming too much sugar.
Research suggests that eating lots of sugar can lead to chronic inflammation. Other effects of consuming too much sugar include a greater risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and tooth decay.
Other factors may also cause inflammation. People who eat less saturated and trans fats, stop smoking, and exercise may lower their risk of chronic inflammation.
Doctors suggest that lifestyle and dietary changes can help people reduce their risk of chronic inflammation and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.