Foods That Contain Certain Additives
Many food items, especially ultra-processed foods, contain additives to improve shelf life, texture, and taste. Some of these may negatively affect your immune response.
For example, some emulsifiers, which are added to processed foods to improve texture and shelf life, can alter gut bacteria, harm your gut lining, and induce inflammation, all of which can cause immune dysfunction .
Carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 are commonly used emulsifiers that have been linked to immune dysfunction in rodent studies (
Choosing nutritious, high fiber carb sources like starchy vegetables, oats, fruit, and legumes over refined carbs is smart to support immune health.
A diet high in refined carbs may adversely affect your immune system. Choosing more nutritious carb sources like fruits and starchy vegetables is a better choice for your overall health.
Processed And Charred Meats
Like fried foods, processed and charred meats are high in AGEs.
For example, a study that analyzed the AGE content of 549 foods found that fried bacon, broiled hot dogs, roasted skin-on chicken thighs, and grilled steak had the highest AGE contents .
Processed meats are also high in saturated fat. Some research suggests that diets high in saturated fats and low in unsaturated fats may contribute to immune system dysfunction (
Diets high in processed meat and meats cooked at high temperatures have been linked to increased disease risk and may harm your immune system.
Increases Your Risk Of Infection
This goes for everyone, but it’s an even greater concern for those with type 2 diabetes. The sugar in soda affects your immune system’s white blood cells, and these all-important cells are responsible for fighting infection. This is why white blood cells are commonly referred to as the “killer cells.” Those who have type 2 diabetes are already susceptible to other serious health complications, such as adverse symptoms of COVID-19, so it’s critical that they keep their non-diet soda consumption low.
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Can Sugar Ever Be Healthy
Consumers know sugar is bad. Always several steps ahead, manufacturers know how to disguise sugar as not-so-obvious ingredient names including agave nectar, palm sugar, and organic cane juice.
While they might suggest a healthier aura, these sugars essentially break down in your body the same as table sugar. Agave, frequently positioned as a healthier sweetener, is up to 90 percent fructose, which studies show contributes to diabetesand other health complications.
No matter what its called, sugar is sugar, and it can negatively affect your body in many ways, says Locke Hughes on WebMD.
One of the most powerful things you can do to boost the immune system is to minimize sugar, especially those that come from processed foods.
While a few natural sweetener alternatives including steviacan be healthy in small amounts, artificial sweeteners are often worse than sugar. One animal study found that sucralose induces liver inflammation and can adversely impact your gut microflora.
A sugar-free diet doesnt mean you have to consume no sugar, but rather avoid refined sugar in processed foods.
Excess Sugar Can Increase Risk Of Insulin Resistance
Insulin manages how your cells utilize sugar. Optimal amounts of this hormone can support and even strengthen your immune system to fight infection. Insulin helps deliver glucose to your cells, which can use it for energy, and normalize your blood sugar levels.
But like inflammation, insulin should do its job and calm down.
When you eat large amounts of sugar, your blood sugar increases. As a result, insulin levels stay high. Over time, your cells become overwhelmed and less responsive to the signals of this hormone. We call this condition insulin resistance, which puts you at risk of endothelial dysfunction and developing type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance can also impair your immune system.
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Do People Without Diabetes Need To Worry About Sugar Consumption Affecting Their Immune System
Yes, processed sugar negatively affects everyoneâs immune system by causing glucose spikes. However, it is not as simple as a direct relationship between sugar consumption and immune function, and the negative effect of sugar on the immune system does not apply to all carbohydrates, suggesting that hyperglycemia, not sugar, is the link. Hospitalized patients with episodes of hyperglycemia are at increased risk of infection, which suggests that even episodic hyperglycemia can adversely affect the innate and adaptive immune system.1
One study conducted in the 1970s showed that as little as 75 grams of sugar could weaken the immune response. Once immune function is compromised, the effects can last for about five hours.17 As a reference, there are 39 grams of sugar in a 12 oz can of Cola-Cola. However, the immune system is very complex, and inaccurate assumptions can be made when studying one immune process in isolation.
How the western diet affects the immune system is not completely understood. However, it is clear that obesity and insulin resistance are risk factors for type 2 diabetes, and the immune system is compromised in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The Connection Between Blood Sugar And Immune Health
Consumers know type 2 diabetes is something to avoid, but they may not realize a key reason to maintain proper blood sugar levels is that it can help support a proper immune defense. Adults with type 2 diabetes have lower natural killer cell activity compared to those with lower blood sugar levels.1 And high blood sugar affects the immune system in multiple ways, such as impairing white blood cell function. At the same time, the increase in sugar can potentially create an imbalanced microbiome with increased bad bacteria compared to normal glucose groups.2
But type 2 diabetes isnt when immune health complications begin. They start as the body begins to develop insulin resistance with the onset of prediabetes. Stanford researchers studying the effects of prediabetes on immune health found that immune function may be significantly impaired.3 This happens because higher blood sugar levels cause an imbalance of cytokines that provide vital aid in immune cell signaling. These researchers were also able to see higher proportions of the bacteria Blautia in insulin-resistant participants, leading to further sugar misregulation and the worsening of the prediabetic condition.
As blood glucose levels are normalized, the bodys immune defense has a chance to recover as well. Nature has provided a powerful source of support through citrus flavonoids to supplement efforts toward a healthier lifestyle with some good old lemon-aid.
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Afs Sugar And Immune Health
Consuming excessive amounts of sugar stimulates your body to make increasing amounts of insulin and cortisol. These high levels of insulin and cortisol can be detrimental to your body systems. For example, long-term consumption of sugar can lead to lower levels of neurotransmitters and hormones.
Because of this connection, one way to help relieve AFS symptoms involves decreasing your intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners. Beware of hidden sugars, however. Sugar is often present in products you may not consider, as we will discuss later in this article.
A major difficulty encountered in AFS concerns hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Your blood sugar levels can become seriously low when under stress. This can become another source of stress, exacerbating your AFS symptoms.
A drop in energy typically comes with stress and low blood sugar. This often causes us to reach for some kind of sugary snack or drink to quickly increase energy. This can work for an hour or so, but then the hypoglycemia returns, sometimes worse than before.
On the other hand, if you eat a healthy snack when your energy level plummets, youll get a longer-lasting boost of energy. This eliminates the significant ups and downs that come with sugary snacks. Those ups and downs in blood glucose levels add to your overall stress, worsen AFS symptoms, and add stress to your pancreas, adrenals, and heart.
Too Few Fruits And Veggies
These foods may help your body make more of the white blood cells you need to fight off infections. Fresh produce and nuts and seeds pack a lot of zinc, beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, and E, and other nutrients you need for a healthy body. Plant-based foods also fill you up with fiber, which helps lower your body fat percentage, which can strengthen your immune response.
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From Sweet To Sour Children
Research suggests that children are more sugar sensitive than adults, and the effects are more pronounced in younger children, according to Dr. Keith Conners, author of Feeding the Brain. This could be related to the fact that the brain grows rapidly in the preschool years, exaggerating the effects of sugar on behavior and learning.
In an interesting study, researchers fed normal preschoolers a high-sugar drink, containing the amount of sugar in the average can of soda, and compared them with children who received a non-sugar drink. The sugar group experienced decreased learning performance and more hyperactivity than the non-sugar group.
Some children are sugar junkies. Weve noted that some of our eight children have more of a sweet tooth than others. When Ive brought home food gifts from patients and laid them on the kitchen table, within minutes the highly-sugared ones would be missing, to be found later in Stephens secret stash.
While studies show that activity levels go up in both hyperactive and normal children on high- sugar diets, the hyperactive children also become more aggressive. Adding protein to a high- sugar meal mellows out the behavioral and learning deterioration. Chalk up another point for eating a balanced breakfast.
The Immune Systems Responses To Bacterial And Viral Infections Are Quite Different
The body reacts to disease-causing bacteria by increasing local blood flow . Also, the immune system produces antibodies that attach to the bacteria and help destroy them. The antibodies may also inactivate toxins produced by particular bacterial pathogens, for example in the case of tetanus or diphtheria. Antibiotic drugs treat bacterial infections by either killing off the specific type of bacteria or preventing them from multiplying.
When you contract a viral infection, like the , the body is invaded by tiny microorganisms, even smaller than bacteria. Viruses are parasitic, meaning they require living cells or tissue in which to grow and multiply. Some viruses even kill host cells as part of their life cycle.
Your immune system can
- the innate response, the first line of defense, while the virus is replicating in the body
- the adaptive response, which kicks in once cells are infected
Without getting into the medical nitty-gritty, viral infections are complicated, as they can change and adapt. Thats why flu vaccination shots must be changed every season.
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The Effect Of Low Blood Sugar On The Immune System
Low blood sugar can also affect the immune system. When blood sugar is low, it can mobilize monocytes, increase platelet reactivity, and promote interaction between monocytes and platelets. This interaction can increase inflammation and decrease blood vesselsâ ability to dilate.
Low blood sugar can have the following effects on the immune system:12
Low blood sugar increases inflammation and narrows blood vessels, which can delay healing.
Chronic Hyperglycemia Slows Down The Perfusion Of Blood Through Blood Vessels
Due to the thickening of blood vessels, there is also a decrease in the flow of blood to the site of injury. Less blood flow subsequently leads to a lesser amount of nutrients, defenses, and other healthy cells to reach the site of wound and initiate a repair mechanism. This delays wound healing and makes a convenient way for bacteria and viruses to enter the body and cause infection.
As a result skin the key barrier in providing innate immunity is no longer competent enough to yield protection against diseases, infections, and inflammation.
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What Is Our Immune System
On a daily basis, we are constantly exposed to potentially harmful microbes of all sorts. Our immune system, a network of intricate stages and pathways in the body, protects us against these harmful microbes as well as certain diseases. It recognizes foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites and takes immediate action. Humans possess two types of immunity: innate and adaptive.
Innate immunity is a first-line defense from pathogens that try to enter our bodies, achieved through protective barriers. These barriers include:
- Skin that keeps out the majority of pathogens
- Mucus that traps pathogens
- Stomach acid that destroys pathogens
- Enzymes in our sweat and tears that help create anti-bacterial compounds
- Immune system cells that attack all foreign cells entering the body
Adaptive or acquired immunity is a system that learns to recognize a pathogen. It is regulated by cells and organs in our body like the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. When a foreign substance enters the body, these cells and organs create antibodies and lead to multiplication of immune cells that are specific to that harmful substance and attack and destroy it. Our immune system then adapts by remembering the foreign substance so that if it enters again, these antibodies and cells are even more efficient and quick to destroy it.
Other conditions that trigger an immune response
What factors can depress our immune system?
What This Means For You
If you’re concerned about the amount of added sugar in your diet, a good first step is cut back on the amount of sugar you add to things you eat or drink regularly, such as coffee, tea, cereal, and pancakes. Switch soda for water, and compare food labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of added sugar.
More tips are available on the American Heart Association website, or you could ask a registered dietitian to help you get on the right path. It can be daunting to overhaul your diet in a major way, so take it one step at a timethey all count.
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Sugar High Then Sugar Crash
Many of us eat too much sugar, far exceeding the recommended less than 10 percent of our total daily calories from added sugar.
Some estimates from US government surveys say that the average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar and about 133 pounds of flour annually, says Mark Hyman, MD, in Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?.
Altogether, thats more than three-quarters of a pound of sugar and flour for every American daily, which Hyman calls a pharmacologic dose our bodies were not designed to handle.
Some of that impact is immediate. Refined sugar can reduce how white blood cells perform and increase inflammatory markers. In fact, obese people have fewer white blood cells with a reduced capability to fight infection.
But as these factors reveal, sugars impact on the immune system can also be cumulative and far-reaching.
How Much Sugar Is Too Much
The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention recommends that added sugars account for no more than 10% of your daily calories. Yet, Americans consume roughly 15% of their daily calories from added sugars, most of which come in the form of sweetened beverages and cereals.
These are often referred to as “empty” calories because they don’t add nutrients to your diet like essential vitamins and minerals. Processed foods often contain added sugars in large quantities. That’s why it’s important to look at labels for added sugars.
A single serving of Honey Nut Cheerios with one cup of skim milk, for example, contains 20 grams of added sugar, or 4% of a 2,000 calorie diet. Or, if you’re a Starbucks fan, a grande caramel frappuccino contains 55 grams of sugar. That’s 220 calories, or 11% of a 2,000 calorie diet above the recommended limit.
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How To Tame The Sugar Monster
Getting control of your sugar cravings is tough. The expression sugar is addictive exists for a reason because it is! Research shows that sugar is just as addictive as street drugs like cocaine! However, you can take simple steps to take the sugar down a notch.
Eat More Whole FoodsAs we just covered, sugar hides out in most processed and packaged foods. Ditching the processed foods in favor of whole foods cooked at home means youll know exactly how much sugar youre taking in.
Plus, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are nutritional powerhouses. Theyre packed with immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, and zinc, giving you the building blocks needed to warn off infections.
Become a Label DetectiveThere are, count em 61 different names for sugar including sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, barley malt, and rice syrup to name a few. Whats more, manufacturers will often include several forms of sugar under different names.
Thats why its so important to read the labels. Check for the sneaky names and the overall sugar count, and opt for sugar-free or lower-sugar alternatives whenever possible.
Fill up on FiberWhen it comes to keeping your blood sugar steady, fiber saves the day. It slows the release of glucose and improves blood sugar balance. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are not only nutrient-dense, theyre packed with fiber!