Pacific Naturopathic - Mountain View, California
Natural Health Articles by Drs. Connie and Marcel Hernandez

How We Undermine Our Immune Systems with An Addictive Non-Food

By Marcel J. Hernandez, N.D.

Sugar and ImmunityTake a walk in almost any neighborhood and observe the people. What you’ll most likely see is that most people are overweight, some very much so. Do some research on the medical problems confronting many of the people you see. What you’ll find is a stunning increase in immune system influenced illnesses – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, three-letter viruses -- HIV, CMV, EBV, and more.

Yes, yes, we live in an increasingly toxic environment and that has a tremendous negative impact on our immune systems. But there is one other major dietary factor undermining our health: sugar. Sugar consumption seriously and dramatically inhibits immune function. Period.

In a recent American Heart Association (AHA) study, the average adult in the United States consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, or an almost unbelievable 150 pounds a year. Even people who watch their sugar intake are at risk, considering that highly refined sugars occur in various guises like sucrose (table sugar), concentrated fruit juice, dextrose (corn sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup. Continuing on the research track, go to Safeway and read labels. Especially look at foods like bread, breakfast cereal, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and most prepared microwave meals. Then, keeping away from the health food section, find ten other packaged products that don’t contain one of the above-mentioned sugars.

MSN just published on-line an article based on the AHA study mentioned above, “The 6 Scary Side Effects of Sugar.” These effects include diabetes, acne, heart disease, depression, yeast infections and cancer. We’re especially concerned about cancer because it is the ultimate immune system breakdown.

In 1973, an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that ingesting as little as three ounces of sugar at one sitting significantly inhibits the ability of white blood cells, which are the heart of the immune system, in destroying bacteria and viruses. This applies to all sugars, including fruit juices.

Many other studies have also documented the immune system depression caused by sugar, leaving us vulnerable to opportunistic infections (colds, flu and other infections) that our immune systems would normally keep under control.

In the 1973 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at Loma Linda University gave volunteers the amount of sugar found in a liter of soda. The researchers then drew blood from the volunteers and mixed it with bacteria. They found that infection-fighting white blood cells from people who had just been dosed with the sugar neutralized many fewer bacteria than those who had just fasted or eaten an unsweetened starch. This immune suppression starts about 30 minutes after the ingestion of sugar and can last for up to five hours.

In the 1970's, Linus Pauling and other researchers found out that that Vitamin C was needed by white blood cells to destroy viruses and bacteria. Interestingly, glucose and Vitamin C have similar chemical structures, so when sugar is ingested it competes with Vitamin C to get into the cells. If there is more glucose around, there is going to be less vitamin C allowed into the cell, resulting in a reduced ability to fight off colds and flus and other opportunistic infections.

The conditions mentioned in “The 6 Scary Side Effects of Sugar” are not a complete list. Simple sugars have been observed to aggravate asthma, provoke mood swings and personality changes, cause nervous system disorders, certainly cause diabetes, and heart disease, and play a part in gallstones, hypertension, and arthritis. This is only part of the story.

But wait – there’s more. Refined dietary sugars lack minerals and vitamins so the only way they are going to be absorbed into our bodies is by robbing body's micronutrient stores. When these vitamins and minerals are gone, severe metabolic compromises occur and disease is a result.

And there is even more. Sugar has absolutely no nutritional value. It has no minerals, vitamins or fiber, and has a profound deteriorating effect on all major body systems. I don’t know who is eating my 150 pounds of sugar a year, but I wish them luck. They’re going to need all they can get.

P.S. My next column will be on sugar substitutes.

Dr. Hernandez may be contacted at

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