Do you get diabetes from eating too much sugar?

May 24, 2018 by Matthew Campbell, The Conversation
Credit: Maria Uspenskaya/Shutterstock.com

There is a widespread belief that sugar is the sole cause of diabetes. After all, the disease is characterised by high levels of sugar in the blood.

Diabetes was first identified through the sweet smell of urine, and it later became apparent that sweet, sugary urine signified a high level of . Over time, diabetes treatment has swung from eating primarily sugar (to replace what is lost), to avoiding sweetness (to limit high sugar levels).

Today, the debate on amounts and thresholds of sugar and its role in diabetes seems as fierce as ever.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where genetics and environmental factors interact. Some research suggests that sugar intake may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes, but the research isn't conclusive.

For type 2 diabetes, a diet high in sugar could, in principle, influence or accelerate the progression of the disease depending on the pattern of consumption. But to suggest that dietary sugar might cause or contribute to type 2 diabetes needs strong scientific evidence that demonstrates that either sugar increases body weight and body fatness (necessary for type 2 diabetes), or that sugar has some kind of unique effect that leads to 2 diabetes, irrespective of weight or body fatness.

What we mean when we talk about sugar

What most people understand to be sugar is sucrose: a mix of glucose and fructose. A common misunderstanding is that blood glucose is derived solely from dietary sugar. Almost all of the sugar in the body, including the blood, is in the form of glucose – one of many sugars belonging to the family of carbohydrates.

Sugars typically form a small part of the diet, not all of them are equally effective at increasing blood glucose levels, and other carbohydrates, as well as fats and protein, influence glucose levels, too.

Animal studies show that high sugar diets lead to rapid weight gain and impair the body's ability to effectively regulate blood glucose. But these effects are mainly due to the fructose component of sucrose and not .

In people, diets high in sugar have also been shown to increase weight as well as risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But these effects only seem to occur when calories are not being controlled; simply exchanging extra sugar with calories from another source won't prevent these negative effects. Also, observational studies have failed to show a harmful association between and type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes has arisen through rising body weights. Fatter people eat more of many things – not only sugar – and extra calories from any nutrient will lead to weight gain. Most sugary processed foods, such cakes and chocolate, contain large amounts of fat which contribute heavily to the calorie content.

Nothing special about sugar

Recently, the debate has turned to sugar-sweetened drinks, such as fizzy drinks. Sugars in drinks are less satiating than sugars in solid foods, and this may drive our appetite to eat more. Sugary drinks have been linked to type 2 diabetes, independent of body fatness. But so have artificially sweetened low calorie drinks. Fruit juices, though, have not been linked to type 2 diabetes despite having similar sugar contents to fizzy drinks.

There is nothing special about sugar that sets it apart from other foods, and sugar does not cause type 2 diabetes on its own. Generally, people eating lots of sugar tend to have poorer diets and unhealthier lifestyles. These, as well as other factors including urban growth patterns, the built environment, the food environment, stressful jobs, poor sleep and food pricing probably contribute more to the rising incidence of type 2 than dietary .

Explore further: Brain scans show why some type 1 diabetics miss low blood sugar cues

Related Stories

Brain scans show why some type 1 diabetics miss low blood sugar cues

February 2, 2018
The brains of people with type 1 diabetes react differently to low blood sugar compared with healthy adults, say Yale researchers.

The not so sweet side of Christmas

December 19, 2017
A new video by the University of Warwick highlights a bitter side to our sugar consumption at Christmas.

Can eating sugar cause cancer?

January 8, 2018
A recent study published by Belgian biologists found a relationship between glucose (sugar) and the activation of a gene that stimulates the growth of cancer cells. This led to public fear that everything with sugar should ...

Eliminate sweetened drinks, cut kids' sugar intake

September 26, 2016
(HealthDay)—Looking for the quickest way to cut added sugar from your kid's diet?

The type, not just the amount, of sugar consumption matters in risk of health problems

January 20, 2017
The type of sugar you eat—and not just calorie count—may determine your risk for chronic disease. A new study is the first of its kind to compare the effects of two types of sugar on metabolic and vascular function. The ...

Exercising safely with diabetes

July 7, 2017
(HealthDay)—Exercise is a powerful tool for managing diabetes.

Recommended for you

Weight gain after smoking cessation linked to increased short-term diabetes risk

August 15, 2018
People who gain weight after they quit smoking may face a temporary increase in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with the risk directly proportional to the weight gain, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan ...

Evening preference, lack of sleep associated with higher BMI in people with prediabetes

August 15, 2018
People with prediabetes who go to bed later, eat meals later and are more active and alert later in the day—those who have an "evening preference"—have higher body mass indices compared with people with prediabetes who ...

Healthy fat cells uncouple obesity from diabetes

August 14, 2018
About 422 million people around the world, including more than 30 million Americans, have diabetes. Approximately ninety percent of them have type 2 diabetes. People with this condition cannot effectively use insulin, a hormone ...

'Alarming' diabetes epidemic in Guatemala tied to aging, not obesity

August 14, 2018
The diabetes epidemic in Guatemala is worse than previously thought: more than 25 percent of its indigenous people, who make up 60 percent of the population, suffer from type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, suggests a new study ...

Gut reaction linked to type 1 diabetes

August 13, 2018
Understanding the link between diabetes and the gut could lead to the development of new therapies to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes, according to University of Queensland researchers.

Early age of type 1 diabetes diagnosis linked to shorter life expectancy, compared to later diagnosis

August 10, 2018
Life-expectancy for individuals with younger-onset disease is on average 16 years shorter compared to people without diabetes, and 10 years shorter for those diagnosed at an older age

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.