I couldn’t believe my eyes and could hardly contain myself.
I had stopped at a friend’s house to drop something off and saw her son, who had been kept home from school with the flu, eating a package of sugary “fruit” snacks. Now I don’t want to be a nutrition snob, but I have mentioned so many times to anyone within ear shot that sugar suppresses the immune system. How does she expect him to get better if her idea of helping him is letting him eat whatever tastes good?
Photo by AdamCaudill
And then I thought, “Wait a minute. My daughter invariably gets sick within a day of ingesting sugar, but does that mean everyone’s immune systems are sensitive to it?” I finally decided to take a closer look to see what others were saying about this.
A Google search for the topic landed me on WebMD.com first (of course). Their M.D. writer posted in June 2017, “Eating or drinking too much sugar curbs immune system cells that attack bacteria. This effect lasts for at least a few hours after downing a couple of sugary drinks.”
Nancy Appleton, Ph.D., author of Lick the Sugar Habit, contends that sugar impairs the body’s defenses against infectious disease, citing a 1997 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, entitled “Depression of Lymphocyte Transformation Following Oral Glucose Ingestion”.
And AskDrSears.com, the “Trusted Resource for Parents” says, “The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours.”
Many of today’s experts have Dr. Linus Pauling to thank for what we know about sugar and its effect on the immune system. Dr. Pauling is famous for his research in the 1970s that revealed that Vitamin C helps white blood cells, our body’s infection fighters, to attack viruses and bacteria. Therefore many of us grew up believing that popping Vitamin C when we are sick will cure us. But the other side of the coin is this: Dr. Pauling also discovered that when glucose levels are high from the ingestion of sugar, it competes with Vitamin C to enter white blood cells. So sugar keeps Vitamin C out, slowing the immune system’s response and compromising its ability to recognize and fight invaders.
So why don’t more people, especially parents know this? When I bring my daughter to a party and tell her to avoid the sugary treats, the moms and dads look at each other as if they should call Child Protective Services. I’ve heard “just this once” more times than I can stand. If I dare to say something about sugar and the immune system, people are aghast.
On the other hand, I don’t want to encourage people to use artificial sweeteners either. Though the U.S. FDA claims that aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal and others) to be the most thoroughly tested and reviewed food additive, others claim that it is a neuro-toxin responsible for the uptick in cases of Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus. Since I can’t prove who is right, I prefer to choose natural refined sugar alternatives like Stevia and Agave. And my kid seems satisfied.
When my daughter was a toddler, my mom used to have a huge bowl of M&Ms out on the kitchen counter at her house. She put them within reach because she knew that I didn’t give my child sugar, and she thought it was horribly mean. I would let my daughter take one, and she would savor it for an hour because she knew she wasn’t getting any more. Now 22, she is sugar savvy, knowing that any more than a little bit and she will rush headlong into a cold. While many of her “no holds barred” sugar-ingesting friends have been sick with all of the viruses that are rampant this year, she hasn’t missed out on anything due to illness. So who’s horribly mean now, Mom?