Friday 22 July 2011


Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a sweet tooth.  I love to make pastries, pies, and cookies.  Ice cream and chocolate make me smile.

I also have Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid to produce so much hormone that it becomes toxic to the body. 

There is no cure for Graves disease but, like almost 70% of Graves disease patients in North America, I chose to have my illness treated with radioactive iodine.[1] This should cause most of its symptoms to abate. 

Knowing that my Graves disease will remain even after its symptoms are gone has spurred me to take action to strengthen my immune system.  With my immune system in mind, I’ve chosen to start limiting the amount of processed sugar in my diet. 

We eat a lot more sugar on a day-to-day basis than our parents did.  In the past 20 years, per capita sugar consumption in the US has risen from 26 pounds per year to a whopping 135 pounds per year.[2]  (I couldn’t find stats for Canada but I would imagine they are similar.) 

Our increased consumption of processed sugar is bad news for our immune systems.  White cells need a high concentration of Vitamin C in order to work effectively.  Sugar (in the form of glucose) and Vitamin C are absorbed by white cells in the exact same way. When we consume processed sugar, glucose rather than Vitamin C finds its way into our white cells, leaving the vitamin roaming about without a home and impairing our immune system’s ability to do its job.[3]

Excess consumption of processed sugar also causes the body to produce extra cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland.[4]  When our blood glucose levels rise, cortisol springs into action to regulate them by signaling our pancreas to release insulin.  While doing so, it also suppresses our immune system.  High levels of cortisol can result in lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, and in slower wound healing.  Prolonged high levels of cortisol can lead to blood sugar imbalances including hypoglycemia and diabetes.[5]

Does this mean I’m going to abstain from sweets altogether?  Probably not.  I doubt I’d have the willpower to do that.  I will, however, make my choices more carefully.  I’ll read labels and avoid foods that have sugar, glucose, or fructose high on their list of ingredients.  I’ll opt for complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains instead of eating simple sugars.  I’ll eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.  They help me metabolize their sugars by serving them up with fiber.  I’ll save sweets for a special treat and, when I do eat them, I’ll enjoy them all the more.

[4] I’ve written about cortisol before, in my blog “Stressed.”


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