Sugar, Cholesterol, and Plaque Explained
Sugar -> Inflammation -> Increased Cholesterol -> Plaque
That of course is over-simplified for the sake of our discussion, but it is true. Let’s explore why too much sugar is a bad thing. When your blood sugar becomes elevated (by eating to much sugar/carbohydrates) your body realizes it has more fuel than you need, so your body releases the hormone insulin to store that extra fuel for use in the future. This excess sugar is stored as saturated fat (triglycerides). In the continued presence of high blood sugar and high insulin, your body becomes resistant to the insulin and your blood sugar remains unchecked, meaning both insulin and blood sugar are high. You are now inflamed.
How does this affect your immune system and cholesterol?
Vitamin C and glucose (sugar) compete with one another to enter your body’s cells. In fact they are nearly identical. So this means that insulin resistance makes you resistant to both glucose and Vitamin C. Your immune system (phagocytes in particular) requires high levels of Vitamin C to function properly. By this time, there is more cholesterol and stored fat floating around in your bloodstream. Not good.
High insulin levels that come with insulin resistance will stimulate your body’s stress response, which further depresses your immune system and continues to raise cholesterol levels even higher (cholesterol is needed to make stress hormones and heal inflammation). The stress hormones will lead to increased cravings for…you guessed it, more fat and sugar!
Where does Plaque come from?
Insulin floating around in the bloodstream will cause plaque to build up by making the skin cells lining your arteries multiply continuously, as they are genetically not resistant to the insulin (I know, weird). This build up of skin tissue produces the plaque. At this time, insulin will also cause the blood to clot more easily.
Eating too much sugar raises your body’s insulin levels in an attempt to store the excess fuel for a time in the future it might be needed, like if you were starving. If the amount of sugar in the bloodstream remains high, insulin is constantly released, and your body becomes resistant to it. As a bonus, your body also is now resistant to Vitamin C, which is greatly needed by your immune system. So right now you have high blood glucose, high insulin, high levels of fat (triglycerides), low Vitamin C, and your cholesterol is increasing. Your body recognizes something is wrong, and initiates the sympathetic stress response, further depressing the immune system, raising cholesterol, and creating cravings for more fat and sugar. The linings of your arteries start proliferating in the continued presence of insulin, creating the plaque that everyone fears.
How do we solve this problem? Cholesterol medicine?
Cholesterol has many benefits including healing inflammation, making hormones, and helping your body fight cancer. Cholesterol is not responsible for heart disease/plaque, we are ultimately responsible for it by what we put into our bodies to let this problem develop. Of course high cholesterol is present in people who have heart disease, but that does not mean high cholesterol causes heart disease. In fact, forcibly lowering it can make you worse off.
If you don’t want to treat symptoms, you can see that the cause for all of these problems begins at sugar. Americans now consume 22 teaspoons of sugar a day (adolescents have 34), and this is added sugar, not the sugar that naturally occurs in fruits. Compare this to 100 years ago when high sugar consumption, diabetes, and heart disease were unheard of! Here is a conservative (12 tsp/day) representation of sugar consumption.
The good news is this is something you can control. I’m not talking about swapping out sugar for a carcinogenic sugar substitute (no Splenda, Equal, or NutriSweet), I’m talking about simply reducing sugar. As your sugar goes down so will inflammation, and over time insulin. The greatest gift in the design of our bodies is that they always do the best they can with what they have. Start changing your lifestyle and start watching your life change.
*resources available upon request.
About Cole Bradburn
I'm a writer and doctor in lifelong pursuit of health, happiness, and adventure. I currently live in Raleigh, NC with the love of my life and our amazing boys.