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How Sugar Suppresses the Immune System – Everything You Need to Know

Under: Akeso Health Sciences, Food & Diet, General Health, Health Library, Immune Patrol

The pandemic has put immunity at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Now more than ever, immune-boosting habits like regular exercise, quality sleep, and stress relief are crucial. Yet, even if you’re working out and taking vitamins every day, one food could be sabotaging your immune system.

Yep, you guessed it – SUGAR. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘sugar and spice and everything nice.’ Well, what sugar does to your immune system is anything but nice. This article will spell out how sugar harms your immune function, offer tips to get control of your sugar habit and share the benefits of the one important ingredient that almost all immune-boosting supplements overlook.

How Sugar Affects Your Immune System

When you eat sugar, it causes a spike in your blood glucose (aka your blood sugar). In time, elevated blood glucose can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. However, it also impairs your immune system in several ways. I’ll lay out a few of them:

  • High sugar intake leads to elevated blood glucose levels. This increases the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which dampens your ability to fend off foreign invaders.
  • Neutrophils are white blood cells that serve as the first line of defense in your innate immune system. They ‘eat’ harmful pathogens such as bacteria and fungi. High blood sugar activates the release of the enzyme protein kinase C, which inhibits neutrophil function. This gives pathogens a chance to set up shop!
  • Studies show high blood sugar can also decrease interleukin-6, a part of your innate and adaptive immune system that helps regulate the immune response.
  • Research reveals high sugar diets increase gut permeability and can tip the balance of your microbiome so that the bad guys outnumber the good ones. This is bad news, as 70-80% of your immune system lives in your gut! That’s why if you want a robust immune system, good gut health is key.

As if that weren’t enough, eating a high sugar diet also puts you more at risk for dangerous outcomes from Covid-19. For example, high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. Studies show people with type 1 and 2 diabetes have increased mortality rates from Covid-19.

However, even if you don’t have full-on diabetes, high blood sugar can still worsen Covid outcomes. For example, one study found that people with elevated blood sugar were over three times more likely to die from Covid-19!

While this is scary, the good news is you do have the power to cut back your sugar intake to bolster your immune system. I’ll offer some tips to help do just that in an upcoming section. For now, let’s answer everyone’s burning question…

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

The average American eats around 77 grams of sugar a day. That’s about 19 teaspoons a day, or 60 pounds of sugar a year!

For many, spending more time at home combined with the stress of the pandemic has fueled sugar cravings even more. Unfortunately, giving in to these sugar cravings wreaks havoc on your immune system.

One study found that 100 grams of sugar (in the forms of glucose, sucrose, honey, and orange juice) significantly decreased neutrophils’ ability to ‘eat’ bacteria. The effects were most pronounced 1-2 hours after eating sugar, but the effects lasted 5 hours.

Since sugar is added to loads of packaged foods, it’s easy to reach the 100-gram mark without even trying. Here’s what I mean:

  • One 16.9 ounce bottle of soda = 55 grams of sugar
  • One tub of yogurt = 31 grams of sugar
  • One protein bar = 17 grams

For a grand total of 103 grams of sugar. And there wasn’t even any cake or ice cream on the menu!

What’s the ‘Sweet Spot’ When it Comes to Sugar?

There are many opinions on the ‘just right’ amount of sugar. However, it’s safe to say we can all benefit from dialing back our sugar intake.

Here’s what the American Heart Association recommends:

  • Men – no more than 36 grams (9 tsp) of added sugar a day
  • Women – no more than 25 grams (6 tsp) of added sugar a day

If staying at a number that low seems like too far a jump for you, take baby steps to trim your sugar down. Try cutting back on the soda (or ditching it altogether). Or you can swap out sugary snacks in favor of fruits or nuts.

sugary food

Where is sugar hiding?

Where Sugar Hides

Even if you’re trying to scale back on sugar, it can be hard to avoid it. Sugar is everywhere! It’s even hiding in products marketed as ‘natural’ and ‘healthy.’ Here are a few of the places where sugar shows up:

  • Sweet treats and desserts: Clearly this one is no shocker, but cakes, cookies, brownies, candy, and ice cream are all loaded with sugar
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks: Most beverages like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, iced teas, and sweetened coffee drinks are high in added sugars
  • Condiments: Ketchup, salad dressings, sauces, and nut butter often contain sugar
  • Packaged foods: Most cereals, bread, granola bars, protein bars, soups, prepared foods, tomato sauces, and yogurt have hidden sugars

How to Tame the Sugar Monster

Getting control of your sugar cravings is tough. The expression ‘sugar is addictive’ exists for a reason – because it is! Research shows that sugar is just as addictive as street drugs like cocaine! However, you can take simple steps to take the sugar down a notch.

Eat More Whole Foods
As we just covered, sugar hides out in most processed and packaged foods. Ditching the processed foods in favor of whole foods cooked at home means you’ll know exactly how much sugar you’re taking in.

Plus, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are nutritional powerhouses. They’re packed with immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, and zinc, giving you the building blocks needed to warn off infections.

Become a Label Detective
There are, count em’ … 61 different names for sugar – including sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, barley malt, and rice syrup to name a few. What’s more, manufacturers will often include several forms of sugar under different names.

That’s why it’s so important to read the labels. Check for the sneaky names and the overall sugar count, and opt for sugar-free or lower-sugar alternatives whenever possible.

Fill up on Fiber
When it comes to keeping your blood sugar steady, fiber saves the day. It slows the release of glucose and improves blood sugar balance. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are not only nutrient-dense, they’re packed with fiber!

fiber rich food

Fill up on fiber

Research shows that people who eat more fiber-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables are less likely to develop diabetes. Yet another reason to favor whole foods over processed ones.

Chromium for Balancing Blood Sugar

Following the sugar-busting tips above will get you well on your way to better blood sugar balance – and enhanced immunity. However, for many, sugar is difficult to avoid, especially hidden sugar.  There are certain nutrients that foster healthy blood sugar and chromium is one of them.

Chromium is an essential mineral that the body needs in trace amounts to convert carbs into sugar for energy and for the breakdown and absorption of protein and fats.  It is naturally present in a wide variety of foods, though only in small amounts, and is also available as a supplement. Chromium enhances the action of the hormone insulin.  If you’re low on chromium, your body may struggle with this conversion, which increases the need for more insulin.  According to a scientific review,  there is a link between chromium deficiency and diabetes.  Also, chromium picolinate, specifically, has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Since chromium is a trace element found in soil, whole foods such as fruits and veggies are rich in this mineral. However, sugar-laden processed foods are NOT. In fact, diets that are high in simple sugars limit chromium absorption.

You can get more chromium in your diet by eating more nutrient-dense whole foods, especially the foods listed below:

● Broccoli
● Grapes
● Green beans
● Brewer’s yeast
● Apples
● Bananas
● Potatoes
● Peas
● Beef
● Poultry

Immune Boosting Supplement Containing Chromium

Maintaining a robust immune system is more important than ever. Thankfully, there are a variety of immune-boosting vitamins, minerals, and herbs to help you do just that. While most combination immune supplements overlook chromium, Akeso’s custom IMMUNE PATROL 24/7 immune defense formula includes chromium to help maintain healthy blood sugar balance. Immune Patrol’s nine key nutrients work synergistically to promote a healthy immune system and respiratory function as each capsule is packed with antioxidants, adaptogens, and other proven immune-boosting nutrients to enhance your body’s ability to fend for itself including:

● Elderberry extract
● Andrographis
● Eleuthero extract
Vitamin C
● Vitamin A
● Vitamin D3
● Zinc
● Biotin
● Chromium


TAKEAWAY:  When it comes to your health, you must be proactive.  One of the single most important things you can do to protect your health and live a long life, in addition to proper sleep, is to reduce your intake of sugar. Sugar reeks havoc on your immune system. In addition to your normal immune-boosting protocol, consider adding chromium to your diet as well, through food or nutritional supplements.