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Sugar scattered from wooden spoons on a black background. Excess sugar like in these cubes can deplete vitamins and minerals

Sugar and Vitamin Depletion

Excess sugar consumption depletes vitamins and minerals. Discover why too manu sugar is so damaging to certain nutrients and what to do about it.
Excess sugar depletes some vitamins and nutrients. We’re not talking about the occasional dessert added to a healthy, whole foods-based diet. Some sugar is just fine. The problems of sugar and nutrient depletion come with chronic excess sugar consumption due to over reliance on processed foods (yes, even savory options are loaded with added sugars under myriad aliases) and sugary drinks.

Excess sugar causes free radicals, which deplete antioxidants

Free radicals destabilize healthy molecules and cells, thereby generating more free radicals until eventually they overwhelm antioxidant supplies and oxidative stress occurs. Antioxidants must neutralize these damaging substances, and can repair the damage inflicted in the early stages of oxidative stress. The problem is these antioxidants (like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, glutathione, etc.) have other roles in the body. If they are constantly diverted to the site of free radicals, they are not available for their other critical functions.

Glucose, the simplest form of sugar, metabolism generates free radicals. This is normal. All metabolic processes have some degree of oxidation, which causes free radicals. It’s unavoidable, and it’s why we have built-in antioxidant generating capabilities. The consumption of excess sugar, on the other hand, generates excessive oxidation. An increase in glucose metabolism comes with an increase in free radicals. It also causes the build-up of a tar-like waste product of glucose metabolism, Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). They accumulate in the skin, causing premature aging, as well damaging the structural protein collagen in other parts of the body, including muscles, tendons, ligaments and the gut. Circulating AGEs are correlated with the dangerous C-reactive protein.

Fructose, another type of sugar that is commonly added to processed foods and beverages as high-fructose corn syrup, raises levels of uric acid, which generates more free radicals. In a small study, endocrinologists at the University of Buffalo found that free radical generation doubled two hours after subjects consumed 75 grams of glucose (roughly the equivalent of two cans of cola). Levels of a-tocopherol (the active form of Vitamin E) fell during this time and continued to fall into the third hour.

Excess fructose may lower Vitamin D levels

Vitamin D is essential for bone health, and at no time is optimal bone nutrition more important than in childhood when the skeletal system is developing. It facilitates uptake of calcium into the bones. At all stages of life, you need sufficient intake and absorption (in the kidneys and intestines) of calcium to maintain bone quality, as well as Vitamin D3. Since excessive fructose consumption and Vitamin D deficiencies often appear together, researchers tested whether there was a causation, instead of a correlation relationship. After 3 months, young mice who were fed a high-fructose diet had significantly lower circulating levels of Vitamin D3.

Intrigued by this finding and its implications for Americans and their ever-rising fructose consumption, the researchers studied the effects of fructose consumption on bone development. They found that young rats fed fructose had shorter femurs than those in the control (starch- and glucose-fed) group, showing that excess fructose can impair bone development. They attribute this finding to fructose decreasing circulating D3 levels, thereby inhibiting calcium absorption and uptake. “This finding is highly significant, because total fructose intake now constitutes almost 10% of total energy intake of average Americans, and ∼20% of total energy intake of the highest 5% of fructose consumers,” the researchers write.

Sugar directly interferes with Vitamin C absorption

When sugar and Vitamin C arrive in the digestive system, they need transportation to the bloodstream and the cells for absorption. The problem is they both use the same transporter protein, which prefers to take glucose. So, Vitamin C gets left behind and excreted, never arriving in the cells where you need it to do all those amazing things for your immune system and skin that you’ve been hearing about.

Poor sugar metabolism can increase magnesium excretion

According to the National Institutes of Health, poor insulin sensitivity is related to low magnesium levels. Increased glucose in the kidneys appears to increase urinary magnesium excretion.

How to stop sugar from depleting vitamins

Read the labels on packaged food products. Manufacturers sneak sugar into just about everything. Sauces and dressings have some of the highest added sugar contents, but frozen fries, breaded meats, and prepared frozen meals can also be surprising sources of sugar. Know the synonyms for sugar. Due to ingredient listing regulations, food manufacturers disguise sugar under its many aliases so they can bury them lower in the mass of words. In addition to those with sugar in the name, look for the -oses (dextrose, maltose, etc.), the syrups, the malts (ethyl maltol, barley malt, etc.), and words that look suspiciously like some of the others on the list (like maltodextrin that combines two of the -ose prefixes).

Don’t take vitamin supplements loaded with sugar. That means gummies, tasty drink powders, and some chewables. While many pills and powders do not contain sugar, you can always opt for the superior absorption of a sugar-free liposomal supplement.