Toxic Sugar: Sweet, Dangerous, and Deadly

Friday Mar 8 | BY |
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Seriously, is sugar that bad? Do you really need to cut back?

What is the single most important thing you can do to safeguard your health and prevent disease?

Eliminate refined sugar and it’s cousin, high fructose corn syrup.

Sugar is Toxic

Only one substance has been found to have a direct link to diabetes: Sugar. No other food is as strongly associated with the disease. Even obesity, sedentary behavior, and alcohol use do not have the impact on diabetes that eating too much sugar does.

Refined sugar (sucrose) is made up of a molecule of glucose bonded to a molecule of fructose in a 50-50 ratio. Fructose, which is twice as sweet as glucose, is what distinguishes sugar from other carbohydrate-rich foods like bread or potatoes that break down upon digestion to glucose alone. The more fructose in a food, the sweeter it tastes. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a man-made substance mostly derived from corn, is 55 percent fructose, and the remaining 45 percent is glucose.

The way your body digests, absorbs, and metabolizes fructose is different from how it processes glucose. Liver metabolism of fructose favors “lipogenesis,” the production of fat in the liver. Unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. The hormones insulin and leptin act as key signals in the regulation of appetite. Disrupted hormone signaling leads to weight gain because you don’t know when to stop eating.

Put The Brakes on Lipogenesis: To remove accumulated fat from the liver take lipotropic nutrients. Termed “fat burners,” lipotropics include cofactor nutrients like methylcobalamin (a form of vitamin B12) and amino acids including methionine and inositol.

Fructose is metabolized primarily in the liver, while every cell in the body metabolizes glucose from sugar and starches. Consuming fructose means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories from starchy foods. If you take your sugar in sodas or fruit juices, fructose hits the liver faster than if you consume it in the form of a whole food, like an apple. The rate at which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes fructose and glucose, and liver health and genes that regulate metabolism and detoxification influence this process.

Toxic Effects & Dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup: HFCS is known to cause metabolic syndrome, but also interferes with learning and memory, and has been linked to depression. It is associated with mental dullness or “brain fog,” mood disorders besides depression, and may have links to Alzheimer’s. It causes unexplained weight gain even when consuming a low fat, low calorie diet, and it’s a major cause of fatty liver disease. It makes for nasty cross-linked proteins that cause age spots and increased wrinkling of the skin. Too much causes uncomfortable intestinal bloating and may be associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and “leaky gut” syndrome. High doses of fructose punch holes in the intestinal lining allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter your blood stream and trigger inflammation at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia and accelerated aging. HFCS may contain high levels of mercury.

According to a 2012 article in the journal Nature, refined sugar is a toxic substance that should be regulated like tobacco and alcohol. It’s even been thought to have the same serious health disrupting effects as cocaine.

Sweets Lead to Metabolic Disease

Refined sugar and its aftermath—1) too much glucose in the blood, 2) liver congested with fructose, and 3) reckless amounts of insulin—is associated with many diseases. Diabetes type II is the best known, but there are others.

Most cancer cells rely almost exclusively on glucose to fuel their growth. Cardiovascular disease risk is increased when glucose and insulin are out of control. Obesity results due to a combination of too many calories and not enough exercise, poor liver metabolism, and too much dietary sugar.

For decades, I’ve stated that health enemy number one is sugar. Obesity is not the cause of the dramatic rise in chronic diseases. It’s sugar.

In my practice, I see many overweight people who have healthy lab test markers including desirable cholesterol levels. Rather, it’s metabolic syndrome that’s the culprit, which can strike those of “normal” weight as well as those who are obese. Fat and fit is better than thin and sick, but normal weight and healthy is best.

Metabolic syndrome is associated with insulin resistance, which appears to be a direct result of the consumption of fructose. This explains why there’s little argument from scientists about the recent “obesity won’t kill you” studies. Technically they’re correct, because obesity is a marker for metabolic syndrome, not the cause. Fructose is the cause.

This means that when we eat 100 calories of natural sugars from a potato or whole grain bread or other complex carbohydrate, or 100 calories from refined sugar, they are metabolized differently and have a different effect on the body. The calories are the same, but the metabolic consequences are dramatically different.

Get HFCS Out of Our Foods

Robert H. Lustig, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco and author of Fat Chance, is angry at the food industry and their lobbyists. He’s adamantly against high fructose additives to food and advises, and like I am, against consuming all refined sugar.

Fructose occurs naturally in fruit, so why isn’t eating whole fruits bad? Because the fiber and nutrients in fruit counteract the toxic effects of the sugar, which is why it’s better to eat your fruit than to drink it. I advise patients to avoid all fruit juice, and instead, consume 1-3 whole fruits or the equivalent in berries daily.

Dr. Lustig says: “Naturally occurring fructose comes from sugarcane, fruits, some vegetables, and honey. The first three have way more fiber than fructose, and the last is protected by bees.” Perhaps that’s what we need: more angry bees to keep us from guzzling fruit juice and sugary drinks!

Fructose Facts

  • Fructose consumption in America increased fivefold in the last 100 years.
  • 5% of Americans drink more than 4 cans of sugary sodas every day.
  • The Odwalla juice company is owned by Coca Cola.
  • Commercial orange juice contains 1.8 grams of fructose per ounce.
  • One can of soda contains and average of 1.7 grams of fructose per ounce.
  • High fructose corn syrup is artificially made.
  • 1 teaspoon of fructose has 15 calories and 4.2 g of carbohydrates, and no fiber.
  • The average American consumes 51 grams of fructose every day.

Fructose-Rich Sugars

  • White sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Beet sugar
  • Fruit sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Maple syrup
  • Agave syrup
  • Honey

Sugar and Triglycerides

Glucose is necessary for life. Much of it is used by the liver to make glycogen (“liver starch”), which is needed as a back-up source of energy. The brain also uses a lot. However, when there is too much glucose, it gets converted to triglycerides.

Excess glucose also gets bound up with proteins, a process that causes a “browning” effect on tissues. Fructose is seven times more likely than glucose to make AGE’s (Advanced Glycation Endproducts), which is associated with accelerated aging. This process also releases lots of toxic free radicals that cause insidious tissue damage, are implicated in many diseases, and make you age faster.

When a person has problems metabolizing sugar, triglyceride levels go up and HDL “good” cholesterol goes down. The first symptom doctors are taught to look for in diagnosing metabolic syndrome is an expanding waistline. This means that if you have belly fat, there’s a good chance you have metabolic syndrome, and this is why you’re more likely to have a heart attack or become diabetic (or both) than someone who doesn’t have belly fat. Lean individuals can also have metabolic syndrome, putting them at greater risk of heart disease and diabetes than lean individuals without it.

Having metabolic syndrome is another way of saying that the cells in your body are ignoring the action of the hormone insulin — a condition known as insulin-resistance, a complex metabolic and hormone condition involving higher than normal levels of insulin and cortisol, the stress hormone.

Signs of Metabolic Syndrome

  • Greater waist to hip ratio: “belly fat”
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD) with high liver enzymes AST and ALT
  • High triglycerides
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • High hemoglobin A1c
  • High uric acid levels
  • High blood pressure
  • High normal serum levels of cortisol and insulin

When Sugar is Necessary

“Empty calorie” simple sugars are not complex carbohydrates, nor are they complex healthy sugars. Chains of simple sugars are built by nature into giant molecules called complex sugars that rival our DNA strands and proteins in size and complexity.

Molecules of complex sugars are far more important than just for energy storage. Complex sugars are involved in nearly every aspect of biology, from recognizing pathogens, to blood clotting, to enabling sperm to penetrate an egg during reproductive fertilization. But these biologically necessary complex sugars are not what you use to sweeten your coffee.

Researchers have known for decades that sugars often attach to proteins and lipids, especially on cell surfaces and in the gel-like matrix between cells (the ECM “extracellular matrix”). As science advances in genetics, the importance of healthy sugars has become more apparent.

Good, complex sugars missing from a cell-surface protein are to blame for some forms of muscular dystrophy. A sugar receptor was found that allows Helicobacter pylori to infect the stomach lining, causing indigestion and abdominal bloating, and that can lead to ulcers and gastrointestinal cancer.

Glyconutrients (another name for good sugars) are a family of nutrients—like vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols—necessary for health and the prevention of disease. For example, the glyconutrients found in aloe vera and rice bran syrup have anticancer properties.

It seems that every cell in the body has its own family of sugars on its surfaces. What’s more, a given cell’s glycome (the genetic code that informs the cell how to best use sugars) is constantly changing. Cells may be able to make subtle changes to their sugar coats’ response to infections or environmental changes, making glyconutrients important in immune function.

Strong scientific evidence to support these claims is lacking, but the research base is growing. What we know is that modern agricultural practices and commercially produced foods are high in simple toxic sugars and devoid of complex good sugars.

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Sources of Glyconutrients

  • Mother’s milk
  • Aloe vera
  • Black berries
  • Guavas
  • Medicinal mushrooms
  • Ripe organic fruits and vegetables
  • Throw Away is the Take Away

    We finally have the proof we need for a verdict: sugar is toxic. But is there an acceptable amount?

    Recently, a coalition of scientists and health advocates petitioned the FDA to set safe limits for sugar consumption and acknowledge that added sugars be declared unsafe at the levels at which they’re typically consumed. I’m glad to see the research finally proves my point, but common sense and clinical wisdom have informed us for a long time that sugar is toxic. There is no safe amount when consumed over time.

    The take-away is that it isn’t simply overeating that can make you sick: its eating sugar that’s at the root of the epidemic of modern diseases.

    The Antidote

    If you are to do only one thing to prevent disease, increase longevity, and improve your health, cut out all refined sugar today. Read labels and avoid all fructose-containing products. Avoid commercial fruit juices and limit fresh-squeezed organic juice to 2 ounces daily.

    Eat no more than 2-3 whole organic fruits daily. Choose berries over fruits. Avoid bananas entirely because of their high sugar content. Increase dietary fiber to at least 25-35 grams daily by including whole grains and complex carbohydrates, and supplement fiber with ground chia or flax seeds.

    Keep alcohol consumption to 2-3 glasses of red wine a few times a week, or 1 glass with a meal daily. Avoid sugary mass-produced wines. Get enough micronutrients found in a high quality multivitamin and mineral with polyphenol compounds. Take Omega-3 fish oils.

    Include glyconutrients super foods like aloe vera in your program. Take lipotropic nutrients to help the liver eliminate accumulated fat. Eat more plants, cooked and raw. Get enough high quality protein. And, don’t skip breakfast. Finally, exercise daily.

    Learn More
    The New York Times
    Center for Science in the Public Interest
    YouTube/Dr. Lustig

    Dr. J. E. Williams


    Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

    Visit Dr. Williams’ Website:

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    1. Deloris says:

      🙂 Yae! Well said, clear and written in easy to understand language. Thank you! 🙂

    2. Vicki says:

      Hi i’m a lover of honey both creamed and natual………I guess this is also dangerous to my health…..Looking forward to your feedback. cheers

    3. Dana says:

      Yes, very well said but definitely questionable only because honey, agave, and maple syrup are also considered “bad” choices? AND bananas? I’m ALL about “food as medicine” and cutting out ALL processed foods and eating as much organic plant-based as possible (and that is how we live) but I can’t help but wonder about some of this info. I am not doubting Dr. Williams’ credibility at all, but I do find it hard to believe that some of these foods are AS detrimental to one’s health as refined/processed sugars. Hmm. (?) And I know, who am I to question? But I simply do.

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