MountainStar Health - January 12, 2017

Sweetie pie, honey bun, you know that I love you!

Whether it's a birthday cupcake piled high with icing, a cappuccino from a nearby coffee shop, or a handful of chocolates on Valentine's Day, sugar can make life a little sweeter. Yet, too much can wreak havoc on your heart. While salty and fatty foods have long been vilified for contributing to heart disease, a recent study in JPMA Internal Medicine suggests sugar may have gotten an undeserved pass. The reason? Decades-old research funded by the sugar industrydeliberately downplayed sugar's harmful effects on the heart.

How much sugar is too much?

Americans consume an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day. That's double or triple the amount we should be eating, according to health organizations. How much should you cut back?

Here's what the experts say:

Health Agencies Recommend levels for sugar intake
World Health Organization and Food and Drug Association Less than 10% of daily calories (WHO reports that 5% of daily calories is even better)
American Heart Association Less than 6 tbsp. a day for women, and less than 9 tbsp. for men.

Sugars from whole fruits and milk are not the main cause of heart-related troubles. Instead, the danger arises from consuming the added sugars in desserts, soft drinks, fruit juices, cereal, sweetened yogurt, sauces, salad dressings and many other products. Eating too much sugar significantly increases your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease no matter your age, weight or physical fitness, according to research in the Journal of the American Medicine Association.

One problem with sugar is it's linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, two leading causes of heart disease. But sugar also has the following negative effects on your heart and vascular system.

  •  Increases blood pressure. When you eat sugar, your pancreas releases insulin to regulate blood sugar. An overload of the sweet stu. causes insulin to spike, which can increase blood pressure. This may give you the feeling of a "sugar high," followed by a "sugar crash" once the insulin finishes its work and blood sugar drops. Over time, these highs and lows can damage and harden arteries, making you susceptible to heart attacks or strokes.
  • Contributes to unhealthy cholesterol levels. Emory University researchers found that adults who eat a lot of added sugars daily tend to have high triglycerides, a type of fat that can cling to artery walls. The sugar lovers also tended to have lower levels of good HDL cholesterol, which helps move LDL cholesterol out of blood so it cannot form plaque in the arteries.
  • Strains heart muscles. Trying to pump sugar-saturated blood through vessels is like pumping sludge through a narrow pipe. That could be why as many as 60 percent of people with diabetes develop diabetic cardiomyopathy, which is a weakening of the heart muscle and eventual loss of pumping ability.