The bitter side of sugar

Last week I talked to you about how to protect yourself from the much-feared MRSA virus. There's no trick involved, and no expensive pharmaceutical solution, either. The answer, plain and simple, is to keep yourself healthy.

And the only way I know to do that, short of moving to an island where you're the only living thing, is to get your immune system firing on all cylinders.

Now, before you go spend hundreds of dollars on magic mushrooms and extracts of this and that, take heart. A healthy immune system has as much to do with what you don't put into your body as what you do. And when it comes right down to it, your immune system's (and your!) worst enemy is processed sugar.

It seems so innocentthose little white grains. Sure, maybe it rots your teeth and forces you to carry around a few extra pounds, but how could it make you sick? Because sugar affects your body at the cellular level. So it can be found at the root of just about any disease - from colds to cancer.

But I'd be willing to bet that, of the 4 million or so cancer patients living in the U.S., you'd be hard-pressed to find one whose doctor told him cancer feeds on sugar. After all, it's not the party line.

So let me be as clear as I know how. When you have cancer, sugar is the absolute worst thing you could put into your body. Not only does it help to fuel the very cancer that you're fighting, but it also beats down the only thing that can help you defeat it - your immune system.

And for those of us not fighting cancer, well, there is no "get out of sugar jail free" card. It is the number cause of being fat and sick.

"But I don't eat a lot of sugar," my patients used to say.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure you don't. Even if you don't pour teaspoons of the stuff in your coffee or over your oatmeal, I bet you're in the dark about how much of it actually sneaks into your body.

The first culprit is labeling. Just because you don't see sugar in the ingredients doesn't mean it isn't lurking. Look for any of the following words and, if you see them, put the package down: corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, and maltose, just to name a few.

I read a statistic somewhere that said that in the late 1800s, the average person consumed 5 pounds of sugar per year. Want to take a stab at what that number has jumped to today? Now it's up to 2 to 3 pounds of sugar per week!

It's no wonder this, the richest nation on the planet, is also the sickest one. We indulge on candy bars and something-chinos and processed food that wouldn't even be edible if it didn't have a ton of sugar dumped in it. And it's no wonder kids these days are hyperactive: Their morning meal consists of sugar-laden cereal (drowning in dead milk), their lunches consist of processed meat piled between processed white bread, and every meal is chased with a soda or - just as bad - a fake fruit juice drink.

With the list of sugar's negative health effects piling up, you'd think we would think twice about funneling it down our throats. But maybe it's time to take a different approach with the "sugar scare tactics." We do, after all, usually care more about how we look than how we are, so maybe this next study will do the trick.

What "AGEs" you

If the threat of cancer, kidney damage, tooth decay, depression, hypertension, moodiness, depression, or migraines (I'll stop there) isn't enough to get you to minimize your sugar intake, I'm sure this next one will scare the addiction right out of you wrinkles.

You may or may not know that collagen is your skin's major structural protein, and it's what's responsible for keeping your skin looking young and healthy.

But when you fill your body with sugar, it serves a double whammy again your collagen. When you eat sugar, you develop AGEs (advanced glycation end products). AGEs damage your collagen and elastin, making your skin less "springy." They also take type III collagen (the longest-lasting and most stable form) and turn it into type I collagen (the more fragile form).

Obviously the best thing you can do for your body (both inside and out) is to cut sugar completely. But since it's nearly impossible these days, you could also try supplementing with vitamins B1 and B6. Both are AGE inhibitors.