The heart – arguably one of the most hard-working organs of the body. The heart is a muscle that works non-stop from the time you are in the womb until the day you die. The heart muscle requires its own blood supply to keep it going strong – blood which supplies oxygen and nutrients to the muscle and removes waste products. When the blood supply is interrupted, the heart cannot function and that area of the muscle that is supplied by the clogged artery is damaged – a heart attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. The widely accepted key risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, overweight and obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. Dietary fat and cholesterol, including eggs, was thought to be the main contributing factor in causing clogged arteries. Not anymore. Newer information implicates sugar as a more significant cause of heart disease. In a study published in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it was concluded that:
“…most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. A higher percentage of calories from added sugar is associated with significantly increased risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality. In addition, regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with elevated CVD mortality. Our results support current recommendations to limit the intake of calories from added sugars in US diets.”
Most of us know that sugar is not the most healthy thing we can consume, contributing to obesity and diabetes. Sugar, especially fructose, causes low-level chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a necessary part of survival. It is a reaction of the immune system in which the body protects itself from foreign invaders, removes debris, and repairs tissues. The problem is when inflammation becomes chronic. The extra sugar in the blood attaches to proteins that injure the inside walls of arteries. The repeated injury leads to plaque buildup. The immune system sees the plaque buildup in the arteries as something foreign, and the inflammatory response ensues. The body tries to wall-off the plaque, and in the process, a blood clot may be formed, which can become loose and result in a blocked artery.
The craving for sugar is actually an evolutionary development which has helped the human species to survive. It provides energy and helps us store fat, which was beneficial in ancient times when food was harder to come by. Sugar also causes the release serotonin, a chemical in our brains that is associated with good feelings. Serotonin regulates sleep, mood, and appetite. Unfortunately, if we habitually eat sugary foods, over time the serotonin in our brains is depleted, thus requiring even more sugar to achieve the same effect. And increased serotonin levels in the brain lead to a decrease in dopamine. Dopamine is also a feel-good chemical in the brain. Sugar is incredibly addictive – more addictive than cocaine. Unfortunately, added sugar is in most processed foods, because it is cheap to produce, and the addictive nature causes people to want to buy more of the product. In order to break the sugar addiction, it may be necessary to go cold turkey, at least for a month or so, to allow the body to heal from the inflammation, and decrease cravings. Strive to eat foods that are closest to their natural form, and avoid processed foods as much as possible. Your body will thank you.