How sugar drains our mitochondria and sets the stage for disease

It’s no secret that most of us eat way too much sugar on a daily basis.

In fact, it’s estimated that the average American eats approximately 22 teaspoons of extra sugar each day. That’s more than double the amount recommended for men and a whopping three times the allowed amount for women!

And while we all know that having a sweet tooth can lead to Type 2 diabetes and other health problems, scientists and doctors have long been in the dark on exactly how sugar leads to metabolic disease.

Well, not anymore…

Now, thanks to research from scientists at the Van Andel Institute, we know more about the mechanism behind the sugar/diabetes connection at the cellular level…

Even better, we now have insights that may shape prevention and therapeutic efforts…

Surplus sugar and your mitochondria

The research leveraged a model to demonstrate how taking in too much sugar affects the powerplants in every cell in your body — known as your mitochondria.

And what it came down to was this…

When your mitochondria have plenty of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in their membranes, they can work efficiently. This means that they’re able to generate the energy your body needs to not only live but also stay healthy.

However, when you take in too much sugar, the excess glucose that’s coursing through your body gets turned into a different type of fatty acid, replacing those helpful PUFAs. It’s a fatty acid that is less efficient than PUFAs, and less flexible.

This upending of your mitochondria’s lipid balance puts stress on them, leads to damage and impacts their performance.

The result?

Powerplants that are less efficient and can’t send out as much energy to your body. And that’s when diabetes and other metabolic diseases can start.

“Although we may not always notice the difference in mitochondrial performance right away, our bodies do,” explained Ning Wu, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Van Andel Institute and corresponding author of the study. “If the lipid balance is thrown off for long enough, we may begin to feel subtle changes, such as tiring more quickly.”

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Getting more PUFAs

So what exactly are the PUFAs that are so vital to your mitochondria? And is there a way to increase them in your body to help your personal powerplants function optimally?

Let’s tackle one question at a time…

PUFAs are polyunsaturated fatty acids — or simply healthy fatty acids such as the omega-3s you can get from oily fish.

As for the second question, the answer is YES.

You can add fish rich in omega-3s to your diet. If you’re concerned about getting enough fish in your diet (or too much mercury), you might add in a PUFA supplement, specifically an omega-3 supplement, to support your mitochondrial function.

But one warning…

The same research that found why your sweet tooth could be leading you down the path to a metabolic disaster also found that the beneficial effects of PUFAs are greatly reduced if you’re also eating too many carbs.

So if you want to get the most from omega-3s, be sure to watch your carbohydrate intake as well as cutting out as much added sugar as possible.

Rolling back the damage of too much sugar

The study revealed one more therapeutic way that might halt the detrimental effects of too much sugar…

The keto diet.

The researchers say that when they fed their mouse models a low-sugar keto diet, they were able to restore normal membrane lipid composition in order to support healthy mitochondrial integrity and function.

But the Keto diet can be difficult to follow. However, you can take baby steps and cut down on sugar and carbs while increasing PUFAs by eating more oily fish, like salmon, to increase your omega-3s.

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An overactive sweet tooth may spell trouble for our cellular powerplants — EurekAlert!

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.