and no this isn't a post to make you feel bad or shameful for all of those fourth of July treats and cocktails! Because if you know me at all ... you know I love those too!
I've recently been diving into more and more research on brain health and gut health and it amazes me how intertwined they are! I'm making my way through this book by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter called Brain Maker - and although it's heavily science based...I'm really having hard time putting it down! He discusses various nutritional and environmental factors that either help or hurt your brain and gut health - I thought I would just mention one common theme found ALL over in the book...Sugar.
Sugar - On the Brain and in your Gut
Like I said ... I'm not here to tell you that sugar is terrible in every regard. Our bodies and brains need sugar and it's used for fuel...but too much of a good thing...is a BAD thing! ESPECIALLY when it comes to sugar in all forms - especially fructose.
You may have heard about insulin resistance - but what is it? Insulin is a hormone that is released in response to it sensing an increase of sugar in our bloodstream. If our blood sugars are ALWAYS high though, insulin becomes numb to realizing it should be carrying out its duty to file it away and therefore we are RESISTANT to its release and our blood sugars remain high without any rescuing from insulin.
High levels of sugar in our blood wreak havoc on our bodies. It destroys out blood vessels which leads to later on kidney disease, blindness and some neurological disorders. Blood sugars also cause an imbalance of your gut biome (the bacteria that grows inside your intestines!) It was amazing to me to find out that this gut bacteria actually produces MOST of our neurotransmitters in our brain - including epinephrine, nor - epinephrine, GABA and dopamine. Well as our blood sugar INCREASES the production of these transmitters DECREASES! (are you getting the hint at one of the gut - brain connections?)
Now I may have set you to believe that insulin is some kind of hero and of course at the right levels it is! When it is working as it should it rescues our blood vessels back to a safe and proper level of blood glucose. BUT in excess insulin causes a lot of problems: it encourages growth of all cells, it stimulates fat formation and retention, it causes inflammation and it either revs up or turns down our hormones! so it too causes a negative effect on the balance of bacteria in our gut.
There are two main types of gut bacteria. Bacteriocytes and Firmicuties. and you guessed it! We need to have the right ratio of these two for our bodies to be running smoothly. If our Bacteriocyte numbers are low it leads to "leaky gut." Our intestinal cells if they are healthy are "tight" or super close together. When they are NOT they tend to be "leaky" and things are able to get through them and we aren't absorbing the nutrients we ingest, but instead they are leaking out. So you could be eating all spinach in the world, but if you have a leaky gut you won't even get the vitamins from it! Does that make sense? When leaky gut is going on our body has the inflammatory response, because it is trying to fight the bad situation that is occurring. Over time when our bodies still in that high gear inflammation mode we end up with neurological issues: depression, anxiety and eventually diseases like Alzheimer's.
Firmicuties when they are low leads to metabolic problems and an imbalance of hormones - for example - Diabetes.
So where does SUGAR come into play with all of this? Well MOST of the sugar that is causing these issues comes from FRUCTOSE! What? But I thought fruit was healthy? Well in moderation and in it's pure form it isn't terrible for you... (like I said MODERATION) - but that ISN'T where we are getting our primary source of sugar from!
The sugar from corn is turned into a syrup and is in many of the foods we eat today - and many times found in sneaky places! It's known as High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Americans are eating 132-312 of their calories from it daily! (taken from Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, MD) HFCS hides in soda, condiments, processed foods, yogurt and many others.
Fructose does not stimulate the production of insulin so that our bodies can handle it properly..instead it goes STRAIGHT to the liver. Of course over time this causes major liver damage. ALSO fructose does not stimulate the hormones that help us to feel full! So we just eat and eat and eat and eat and damage and a damage and damage our livers!
Also our gut bacteria "love" fructose and it causes them to rapidly ferment and break down - leading us to feel BLOATED, GASSY, and it can draw water from our bodies into our bowel and cause diarrhea. (yay! NOT) It also leads to more leaky gut and our gut bacteria can leak into our bloodstream and make us super sick!
So what about artificial sweeteners?? Think splenda, no cal, aspartame, etc - they must be better since they have no calories right? WEELLLL unfortunately they aren't off the hook either. Our bodies cannot digest artificial sweeteners and they ALSO cause a shift in the ratio of our gut bacteria and is super hard for our bodies to break it down.
So let's review!
Eating lots of sugar day in and day out --> bodies become RESISTANT to insulin --> inflammation response (bodies are always in HIGH GEAR!) and our sugars stay elevated in our blood! --> break down of blood vessels, liver damage, damage to our gut bacteria and in return they aren't producing the proper brain cells!, obesity, kidney disease, blindness -->ADD, ADHD, anxiety, depression and eventually the destruction of our brains over time leading to Alzheimer's and dementia.
So how much sugar are you eating a day? Believe me - I like my treats and I won't be giving up sugar any time soon! But being aware isn't a bad thing!
Use this simple formula to calculate your sugar intake in teaspoons!
Total carbohydrates - fiber = net carbs. Net carbs / 4 = # of teaspoons of sugar.
Let's just think about all the carbohydrates foods that are commonly eaten in a day - I wrote them down in a list above - and using a generic carbohydrate counter I roughly estimated the numbers and came out with a total of nearly TWO CUPS of sugar! That is insane. Just picture TWO CUPS of sugar on the counter...
What do you know about gut and brain health?
How much sugar do you think you have in a day?
Did anything about this surprise you?
Have you read any of Dr. Perlmutter's stuff? His website is loaded with information too!
Get his book HERE:
Cookie and Treats Baker. R.N. Nutrition Nerd. Runner. <3 Coffee. Fitness. Foodie. In pursuit of finding my own kind of balance...
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