How Sugar Works

Just say NO to sugar!

The typical American diet is often too high in one of the three macronutrients.  The most prevalent being carbohydrate or more specifically sugar.  When sugar, in its simplest form, is introduced into the bloodstream a cascade of metabolic functions begin to occur.  In order for the body to clear this blood glucose the beta cells of the pancreas secrete insulin, which is then released into the blood stream.  The insulin binds to free glucose and transports that glucose to cells via insulin receptors on the cell membrane. Sugar will have a different affect on a person who is active and a person who is sedentary. Loading sugars pre and post workout can actually decrease recovery time and increase strength gains. The way your body absorbs and uses sugars post workout is similar but not the same as when you are not. Below is a description of two different people consuming sugars and how it will affect their bodies. 

Let’s take a look at two individuals that consume a sugary beverage.  The first person goes to workout at the gym for an hour.  They perform several multi-joint movements and do so with a very high intensity.  Immediately after their workout they consume the sugary beverage.  During the workout they are performing the pancreas is releasing insulin into the bloodstream in order to grab any free glucose molecules to fuel the working muscles.  After cessation of the exercise the pancreas can continue to release insulin for up to a couple hours.  When the sugary beverage is consumed the blood is flooded with glucose that the insulin can now bind to and transport.  The transport of these glucose molecules is primarily used by the muscle cells that were being used during the exercise.  The muscle cells have a higher affinity for glucose absorption post-exercise due to the insulin receptors on the cell membrane becoming more exposed.  This is the same concept as a plant that flowers in the sunlight.  A plant will open up to allow for a greater surface area to absorb the sunlight.  The cell receptor GLUT in a muscle cell reacts the same way when it is in need of energy producing glucose.  The receptor “blooms” on the membrane of the cell to provide a greater surface area for the insulin to bind.  After the insulin binds to the cell membrane the glucose is then allowed into the cell where it can be used as energy.  In this case the insulin release is positive because it is used to aid in cellular metabolism and recovery from exercise.

Now let’s look at the other person.  This person does not exercise but still consumes the sugary beverage in a sedentary state.  All the same function of the pancreas occurs with a major exception in terms of cellular metabolism.  Because there were no muscle cells that were active and being exhausted of their internal fuel source the insulin does not have anywhere to take the glucose.  There are a few other places that the insulin can transport the excess glucose.  The first is the liver.  The liver serves in the functionality of the digestive, metabolic, immune and nutrient storage systems of the body.  When there is an excessive amount of glucose transported into the liver it is often not used immediately but rather stored as fat.  A fatty liver can lead to decreased organ function and in serious cases organ failure.  When the liver becomes overly fatty it will begin to stretch and scar.  The scarring of the liver can not be reversed.  The excess glucose from the sugary beverage can also be picked up by fat cells and stored all over the body.  Once a fat cell reaches its maximum capacity the body will build a new fat cell in order to store the excess glucose.  The scary thing about fat cells is once you gain a new fat cell it is there for life.  Once a fat cell forms it can be exhausted of its energy dense lipid content but it still remains in the body.  The only way to remove it is through artificial means, aka liposuction.  There is one more place in the body that can store the excess energy content of glucose.  Tumors within the body can absorb the excess glucose from the bloodstream.  Certain cancers in the body such as prostate, breast and colon cancers have insulin receptors on the surface of their cells just like other cells in the body.  The overly processed sugars that are common in many American diets have free radicals in them that also are responsible for the development and growth of cancerous tumors.  The most important thing to remember is that the body has a great capacity for storage of energy.  This can lead to excessive weight gain and even more dangerous conditions such as cancers, heart disease, obesity and other metabolic dysfunctions if the diet is not comprised primarily of quality food sources.  However, if you live an active lifestyle with plenty of exercise you can turn your body into an adaptable machine that will put all those glucose molecules to work to your benefit not detriment.














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