We in the West are relentless consumers of sugar. In the US, every man, woman and child consumes an average of 45 kg of refined sugar every year. This doesn't include an additional 300 cans of carbonated soft drinks, 200 sticks of sugar-containing chewing gum, 8 kg of sweets, 63 dozen doughnuts, 22 kg of cakes and biscuits, 91 litres of ice cream plus whatever gets sneaked into prepared savoury foods, and other sugar sources such as fruit juice, maple syrup and honey (Obes Bar Med, 1982; 11: 109). This consumption is even worse during the holiday season.
Most of us think that sugar simply contributes to an extra five pounds or tooth decay, or worsens diabetes, and have little idea of the devastating effect of sugar consumption on the human metabolism. Simple sugars (such as table sugar, honey, fructose, glucose and dextrose) immediately depress the immune system. Ingesting 100 g (3 oz) of sugar substantially reduces the capacity of neutrophils to engulf and destroy bacteria - an effect that begins an hour after consumption and lasts for five hours.
Sugar reduces neutrophil activity by up to 40 per cent during the first three hours after consumption. As neutrophils constitute 65 per cent of the total white blood cells in circulation, such a reduced defensive capability will significantly compromise immune function (Dent Surv, 1976; 52: 46-8).
If you're pregnant, eating loads of sugar will have a substantial effect on your unborn baby. In a study of some 500 pregnant adolescents, those in the top 10th percentile for sugar consumption were twice as likely to deliver a small-for-gestational-age infant (J Nutr, 1997; 127: 1113-7).
Sugar can contribute to diabetes or worsen Candida albicans infection. And simple sugars are also implicated in the following seven specific types of health problems:
* Inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease (Gut, 1997; 40: 754-60; Gut, 1993; 34: 783-7)
* Thrombophlebitis and peripheral vascular disease (Postgrad Med J, 1969; 45: 608)
* Stomach cancer (Eur J Epidemiol, 1995; 11: 55-65)
* Gallstones (J Am Coll Nutr, 1997; 16: 88-95)
* Kidney and bladder stones (Nutr Health, 1987; 5: 9-17)
* Raised blood pressure (J Am Coll Nutr, 1994; 13: 73-82)
* Myopia (Proc Nutr Soc, 1972; 31: 4A-5A).
However, there is some positive news about sugar. French herbal researchers report that betaine, a natural constituent of Beta vulgaris (common sugarbeet), has a fat-reducing and antitoxic function by acting on the methylation cycle in the liver, promoting the regeneration of liver cells and converting triglycerides into transport fat. It acts on the body like the amino acid methionine, has no harmful effects, is well tolerated and may be regarded as a good all-purpose liver remedy.
Indeed, the German proprietary product Flacar (made by Wilmar Schwabe) contains betaine in combination with natural sorbitol derived from Sorbus acuparia (rowan berries). Betaine is also frequently combined with hydrochloric acid and pepsin as a gastric-acid supplement for cases of low stomach acid production.
So, while your Christmas pudding won't do you much good, this kind of sugar beet might be able to rescue you from a tired liver come January.
Harald Gaier is a registered homoeopath, naturopath and osteopath.