by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD, and Samantha Wallace
Two articles on Google’s first page give opposing views. One is called Does Sugar Cause Inflammation in the Body? by Mary Jane Brown, a PhD and registered dietitian. Published in 2016, it contains 47 excellent scientific references and presents a convincing case that sugar causes inflammation (1).
The other article is Inflammatory Claims about Inflammation, by Jeff Schweitzer, PhD, who served as Assistant Director for International Affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Clinton administration (2). Published in 2015, it argues that health experts are making pseudoscientific assertions about inflammation. Schweitzer’s position is that inflammation is not the cause of disease, but it is part of the pathway through which certain diseases develop.
Is diet the cause of inflammation? Schweitzer acknowledges that eating too much at one time and eating large amounts of saturated fats have both been shown to create an acute inflammatory response. He states that “…overeating, obesity, high fats diets and other unhealthy eating habits…” can result in the major diseases of today, including diabetes, cancer, stroke, and heart attacks—all involving inflammation. But he maintains that many assertions about specific foods, which are said to reduce inflammation, are unsubstantiated, and he strongly objects to claims linking sugar to inflammation.
While a great deal of research shows a connection between sugar and inflammation, two studies indicate that short-term sugar intake does not result in a significant increase in pro-inflammatory markers (3,4).
The problem is that over the years our faith in modern science has been severely eroded. In his book, The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes reveals documents that demonstrate a huge conflict of interest. The sugar lobby funded certain researchers to place the blame for increased cardiovascular disease on excess saturated fat, rather than sugar (5). One of the most prominent researchers was Ancil Keys, who appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1961 as our nation’s leading expert on nutrition. Although John Yudkin, a British physiologist and nutritionist, and the founding Professor of the Department of Nutrition at Queen Elizabeth College in London, tried to alert the world to the potential dangers of excess sugar, Keys and the sugar lobby managed to destroy Yudkin’s credibility. Ancil Keys’ famous “Seven Countries Study” had an enormous influence on US government nutritional guidelines. Keys, we now learn, cherry-picked data that supported his theories, leaving out critical data that did not. Another researcher who played a vital role supporting the sugar industry was Fred Stare, founder and longtime chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.
Among the consequences of government recommendations to reduce dietary fat intake were the creation of trans fats and industrial processed vegetable oils, along with the addition of sugar to processed food to enhance taste (which was considerably less appealing without butter and other natural fats), and finally, the introduction of high fructose corn syrup to stabilize the price of the now growing demand for sugar. It is impossible to calculate the untold harmful effects, which Ancil Keys, Fred Stare, and others supported by the sugar industry at the time, have had on the health of the American people.
The Sugar War continues. Robert Lustig, MD and Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco is one of the leading proponents against sugar. A video of his lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” went viral and by February 2017, had been viewed over seven million times (6). But he is not without opponents, as he explains in a recent article entitled Sickeningly Sweet: Does Sugar Cause Type 2 Diabetes? Yes (7).
One of the most comprehensive studies on sugar has been done by the American Heart Association, which came to the conclusion that “added sugar” (meaning sugar used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods, as well as sugar added to foods at the table or eaten separately) increased risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity–related cancers (8). The study strongly recommends that children consume less sugar as part of a healthier diet.
I particularly appreciate the research of Dr. Alessio Fasano, Director for the Center for Celiac Research at the prestigious Mass General Hospital and a visiting faculty member at Harvard Medical School, who offers convincing evidence that chronic inflammation can start in the gut as a result of diet, toxins, and a disruption of the microbiome. Dr. Fasano is most famous for his findings on celiac disease, which have now extended to include a variety of autoimmune diseases. Dr. Fasano’s work provides us with a model of how diet can cause inflammation in the gut, which may then spread to other parts of the body (9).
Here is what we know:
- Health experts often make unfounded claims.
- The causal links between sugar and inflammation are complex and involve many factors, including the microbiome.
- The Sugar War is far from over.
- The effects of excess fructose and its metabolic pathways are still under investigation.
- Most large studies agree that excess sugar is a significant contributor to the most serious diseases of our time.
A recent study, Ageing: From Inflammation to Cancer, explains that the ageing process involves a chronic and systemic low-grade inflammatory process (10). If sugar does indeed cause inflammation, it follows that reducing an unhealthy sugar intake might slow down our aging process.
- Does Sugar Cause Inflammation in the Body? by Mary Jan Brown, Healthline, November, 2016
- Inflammatory Claims about Inflammation by Jeff Schweitzer Huffington Post, May, 2015
- Silbernagel G et al., Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, e-selectin and C-reactive protein levels in response to 4-week very-high-fructose or -glucose diets. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jan; 68(1):97-100
- Kuzmua, JN et al., No differential effect of beverages sweetened with fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, or glucose on systemic or adipose tissue inflammation in normal-weight to obese adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2016;104:306–14
- The Case Against Sugar Gary Taubes, Knopf, 2016
- Lustig, RH, Sugar the Bitter Truth, Youtube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM
- Lustig, RH, Sickeningly Sweet: Does Sugar Cause Type 2 Diabetes? Yes. Can J Diabetes 2016 Aug;40(4):282-6.
- Miriam B et al., Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association, Circulation. 2017 May 09; 135(19): e1017–e1034
- Serena G et al., The Role of Gluten in Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes. Nutrients. 2015 Aug 26;7(9):7143-62
- Leonardi, GC et al., Ageing: from inflammation to cancer. Immun Ageing. 2018 Jan 19;15:1
ROBERT KEITH WALLACE is a pioneering researcher on the physiology of consciousness. His work has inspired hundreds of studies on the benefits of meditation and other mind-body techniques, and his findings have been published in Science, American Journal of Physiology, and Scientific American. After receiving his BS in physics and his PhD in physiology from UCLA, he conducted postgraduate research at Harvard University.
Dr. Wallace serves as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Physiology and Health, Director of Research, and Trustee of Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa. He helped create the first fully accredited Masters of Science degree in Maharishi AyurVeda and Integrative Medicine in the US.
Dr. Wallace is the author of several books, including Gut Crisis: How Diet, Probiotics, and Friendly Bacteria Help You Lose Weight and Heal Your Body and Mind with his wife Samantha Wallace.
SAMANTHA JONES WALLACE is a former model, featured in Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Look Magazine. A lifelong practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, she has a deep understanding of Ayurveda and its relationship to health and wellbeing.
The coauthor of Quantum Golf, Samantha is an editor of Dharma Parenting, and coauthor of Gut Crisis. She is finishing a book called Real Deep True Beauty, which emphasizes Essential Oil Skincare, and Ayurveda.