Sugar weakens your bones and increases the risk of fractures in the young and elderly
We consume far too much sugar from candy, soft beverages or in the form of concealed sugar in our food. This impairs the body’s uptake and utilization of calcium and magnesium. Sugar can skew the body’s mineral balance, thereby setting the stage for osteoporosis and an increased fracture risk caused by minor strains. Children and youngsters are particularly prone to bone weakening and osteoporosis from an early age, which is why there is good reason to lower the threshold level for sugar intake.
The general population consumes far too much sugar. We get loads of the sweet stuff from candy, cookies, chocolate, soft beverages, fruit juice, cocoa milk, ketchup, jam, cereals, ready meals, pickled foods, sweet chili sauce etc. Sugar is often concealed in the food, so it pays off to read the label carefully and to make a note of the fact that sugar has many different names (read the fact box in this article)
|Sugar is the normal term for sucrose that is made industrially from sugar beets or sugar canes.
Sugar speeds up bone deterioration
It is vital for children and teenagers to build strong bones during their growth period. This requires the presence of nutrients, especially calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. Our bone tissue is constantly replenished, and as long as the bone-building processes take place at a faster rate than bone deterioration, we are able to maintain healthy bones. However, the deterioration of our bones starts to speed up around the age of 30, and sugar can accelerate the process in different ways.
How does sugar skew the body’s vitamin and mineral balance?
The refinement of sugar canes strips them of around 40 vital nutrients, leaving the white sugar with nothing else than empty calories. In our intestinal system, the white sugar is broken down into fructose (that is passed on to the liver) and glucose (that is absorbed quickly in the bloodstream). Glucose is used to produce the energy molecule, ATP. This requires a number of enzyme processes that depend on B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals. However, as white sugar is refined, the body must collect vitamins and minerals from other parts of the body. In this connection, our bones serve as the primary “mineral bank”. Consuming sugar, in other words, is like making constant cash withdrawals, and unless we make sure to replace what we take out from our account, we risk going bankrupt, figuratively speaking.
Sugar, soft beverages, and the acid-base balance
If we consume too much sugar, it weakens our bones. Moreover, sugar leads to an acid build-up in the bloodstream, which requires a tightly regulated pH value. Base-forming minerals like calcium and magnesium are dispatched in the blood and subsequently discharged with the urine. Our bones lose calcium, magnesium, and other minerals on that account, and the problem is made worse by consuming soft beverages that contain phosphorus, which belongs to the group of acid-forming minerals.
Sugar, body fat, and bone tissue
A diet that contains too many empty calories from sugar and other types of refined carbohydrate tends to increase the amount of body fat. Several studies have shown an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures in people with a higher body fat percentage. This applies not only to overweight individuals but also to people of normal weight or TOFIs (Thin Outside Fat Inside) that have too much fat in relation to their muscle mass. Having too much body fat therefore has a negative effect on the bone mass, regardless of a person’s weight, physical activity level, and age.
Too much sugar also tends to deplete our levels of chromium, a nutrient that helps insulin channel sugar into the cells. Overconsumption of sugar therefore increases the risk of developing insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, the early stage of type-2 diabetes. This can easily turn into a vicious cycle of insatiety, hunger between meals, and consumption of too many fast carbohydrates.
Sugar and its damaging impact on bones
The constant battle against sugar and the food industry
More than 100 years ago, the German-Baltic physiologist, Professor Gustav von Bunge (1844-1920), proved sugar to be a “calcium thief”. He fought a tough battle against the sugar abuse in those days, which (by the way) was nothing compared with what we see nowadays. He suggested that the government put a levy on sugar as a way of limiting the consumption of this unhealthy food source. Gustav von Bunge’s battle did not lead to anything, just like politicians today have not been successful in limiting people’s sugar intake. There are simply too many financial interests at stake in the food industry. As mentioned earlier, there is concealed sugar in everything from candy, cookies, and soft beverages to yoghurt, ketchup, pickled beets, and ready meals that are retailed as “real” food.
Frightening Japanese research
During the period 1920-1930, a Japanese scientist named Awasi Katase, and his 40 research colleagues conducted a number of controlled animal studies to investigate how sugar affects the body. They found that the more sugar the animals consumed, the weaker and more calcium-depleted their bone mass became. The scientists also found morbid changes in the parathyroid glands. These glands produce parathyroid hormone (PTH) that increases calcium levels in the blood by releasing calcium from bone tissue and reducing the calcium excretion from the kidneys. That way, PTH helps maintain a constant calcium concentration in the blood, muscle tissue, and intracellular fluids.
However, as soon the animals were given sugar, their bones became that weak you could cut through them with a regular kitchen knife. Upon close scrutiny of the bones, the scientists discovered that the content of minerals like calcium and magnesium was alarmingly low.
Based on their findings, Katase and his colleagues tried to calculate what amounts of sugar would be correspondingly harmful for humans. They concluded that around 50 grams of sugar consumed by a child weighing 25 kilos would pose a similar risk. This is the same amount of sugar as you get from 50 cl of soft drink. With that amount of sugar, not only do you risk bone fracture and other types of bone damage, it may also lead to serious diseases of the endocrine system.
|According to the Japanese scientist, Awasi Katase, children’s sugar intake should be limited to five grams daily due to their bones and endocrine system.
Too many soft beverages during the teenage period increase the risk of bone fractures later in life
In 1989, Grace Wyshak and her colleagues looked closer at the relation between soft beverage consumption among female students at a sports college during their youth and the prevalence of bone fractures over the following decades. 5,400 women took part in the study, and half of them were still sports-active. The analysis showed a clear relation between beverage consumption during their youth and their risk of bone fractures later in life. The scientists also concluded that physical training could prevent bone fractures to some extent, although it was not able to compensate for the harmful effects of consuming large amounts of sugar.
In 1994, the scientists followed up their research with a new study of 8-16 year-old boys. Here, they found that those who consumed the largest quantities of Coca-Cola and other soft beverages sustained the largest number of bone fractures. The study also revealed that Coca-Cola was particularly damaging for bone mass, which may be because Coca-Cola also contains caffeine that speeds up the body’s energy metabolism without providing the minerals that are required for these biological processes.
Did you know that Coca-Cola contains sugar, caffeine, and phosphorus, which can damage bone tissue in different ways, thereby increasing the risk of fractures later in life?
Threshold values for sugar intake and healthier alternatives
WHO recommends that the intake of refined sugar among children and adults stay within 10% of their daily calorie consumption. This recommendation is around half of the current average sugar intake.
It would be advisable to reduce the sugar intake even more. The Japanese scientist, Awasi Katase, suggests a five gram per day limit for sugar intake among children. It is even possible to replace sugar with other sweet alternatives like Stevia (zero calories) and Xylitol (very few calories).
Simple advice for consuming less sugar and maintaining stable blood sugar
- Read the nutrition labels and avoid products with a lot of sugar
- Eat three main meals with healthy ingredients every day
- Remember to include the right amount of protein and healthy fats
- Stick with coarse carbohydrates and many vegetables
- Take a supplement of organic chromium yeast to increase insulin sensitivity
- Replace white sugar with Stevia or Xylitol
Overview of different types of carbohydrates
|Contains the following sugars
|Grape sugar/blood sugar
|White sugar and cane sugar (sucrose)
|Glucose and fructose/grape sugar (disaccharide)
|Fruit and honey
|Glucose and fructose/grape sugar (disaccharide)
|Milk sugar (lactose)
|Glucose og galactose (disaccharide)
|Starches (potatoes, rice, wheat, and corn)
|Many glucose units (polysaccharides)
|Glucose is absorbed directly from the blood upon digestion, whereas fructose continues to the liver where it is stored. Fiber, protein, fat, and acid lower your carbohydrate uptake.
Iver Mynsterrud. Sukkerspising svekker skjelettet. Helsemagasinet Vitenskap og Fornuft. Nr. 3 2017
Wyshak G, Frisch R. Carbonated beverages, dietary calcium, the dietary calcium/phosphorus ratio, and bone fractures in girls and boys. Journal of Adolescent Health. 1994
Wyshak G, Frisch R et al. Nonalcoholic carbonated beverage consumption and bone fractures among women former college athletes. Journal of Orthopaedic Research. 1989.
Katase A. Der Einfluss der Ernärung auf die Konstitution des Organismus. Berlin/Wien. Urban & Schwarzenberg. 1991
Pernille Lund: Sådan får du styr på dit blodsukker og din vægt. Ny Videnskab 2013
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