Oxidation explained

lecture on sugars

Why it is important to understand what you eat.....

Lots of ideas and recommendations on what to eat to be well are bombarded to us through newspapers, magazines, tv sows etc. New information come out so often and contradicting old information that the viewer is confused, skeptic, annoyed. To the detriment, indeed, of our own health!

During my studies and in my practice I came to read and learn about so many controversies on good food vs bad food that I had to learn to use a machete to cut through the misinformation and save the right good ideas, the ones supported by several studies, and often NOT sponsored by the food industry! One such information regards the connection between chronic inflammatory diseases and certain food, very common foods!

Inflammation is now a major agent of chronic diseases in wealthy populations in whom life expectancy is long, i.e. Western world populations. Such diseases include heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and several other chronic and inflammatory diseases. The root at the problem of such otherwise unassociated conditions is the same: oxidative stress and inflammation. But what are these?

Oxidative stress, or oxidative damage or oxidation is a reaction in your body molecules to some bad invaders. It is like rusting of metal when exposed to oxygen. The necessary fat molecules that make most of our cell walls, our DNA, our whole core can “rust” when specific ‘damaging molecules’ are present in such high quantity that the innate protection system (production of vitamins and other antioxydants) cannot defeat them. The fat molecules rust, the cell becomes dysfunctional and dies, the whole systems weakens.. . The attacking molecules are not parts of viruses or bacteria, but derive from some food we regularly eat!

Oxidative stress of such key molecules causes inflammation, which in turn causes chronic diseases.

Inflammation per se is a defense and repair system against damage, infections etc. It is similar to what happens when you get a redness and swelling on your knee after falling and cutting yourself. The redness, swelling and the warmth of your knee are reactions to the damage: repair cells get to the spot to reconstruct your tissues and to localize infections from bacteria to the hit area. However, when inflammation is protracted because the damage is continuous, it becomes a chronic harmful reaction.

Inflammation is our system can be caused by a chronic exposure of the body to some food and toxins that are not naturally designed and that the body does not know how to process. Chronic (perpetuated, long term) inflammation is a very harmful process.

Chronic inflammation is caused many items such as:

-- Oxidized cholesterol (cholesterol that has gone rancid, such as that from overcooked, scrambled eggs)

-- Eating lots of sugar and grains (especially wheat flour, pasta, pizza, bread, muffins, scones, sweets, breakfast cereals etc.)

-- Eating foods cooked at high temperatures (especially barbequed foods)

-- Eating trans-fats (found in chips and cookies)

-- A sedentary lifestyle

-- Smoking

-- Emotional stress

One of these causes of inflammation that I would like to tackle here is the extensive use of carbohydrates (flour, pasta, bread, muffins, weetbix, sugar, sweets etc.), which are indeed strong inflammatory molecules. A study from 2006 linked high carbohydrate diets, oxidative stress, blood vessels wall dysfunction and low-grade inflammation.

- The first reason for carbohydrates being inflammatory is that insulin, the hormone required to transport sugar from the blood into the cells, can become inflammatory at moderately elevated levels. Sugars in the blood are immediately taken by insulin because they are very dangerous to the blood vessels!

- A second reason for carbohydrates to be cause of inflammation is linked to the reactions that sugars go through in the bloodstream. A small proportion of the absorbed simple sugars: glucose (from sugar and cereals), fructose (from sugar), and galactose (from milk), go through a process called glycation. Glycation transforms such simple sugars into Advanced Glycated End products (AGEs). Some of these AGEs are very reactive and release highly oxidizing side-products (products that in their turn cause oxidation), causing inflammation. These AGEs are implicated in the many age-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (the blood vessels walls and collagen are damaged), Alzheimer's disease, cancer, peripheral neuropathy (the myelin around nerves is attacked), arthritis and more.

Cells and proteins that live a long time, like nerves cells, pancreas cells, the retina, the crystalline of the eye, as well as DNA may accumulate substantial damage from such glycation action!

- A third reason for carbs to be related to inflammation is that high-temperature cooking can oxidize them, producing a range of toxic products that further promote oxidative stress. These toxic products lead adverse health effects, such as aging, cancer, atherosclerosis, retinal dysfunction, cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes and tissue death. These oxidized molecules are called exogenous (made from the outside, your oven) Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). These compounds are important in the production of inflammation and disease states such as and many other age-related chronic diseases. A very partial listing of foods with very high AGEs includes donuts, barbecued meats, cake, and dark colored soda pop.

Damage by glycation results also in stiffening of the collagen in the blood vessel walls, leading to high blood pressure and micro- or macro-aneurisms, that may cause strokes in the brain, as well as smaller damages that require repair which eventually degenerates into the arterial plaque.

During cooking of carbohydrates, glycation may also contribute to the formation of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen.

However, along with sugars one needs to be aware of the damage coming from some fats. Elevated consumption of refined carbohydrates (especially fructose, as found in pop sodas) together with low fats intake makes a very dangerous mix.

Guess what?: the recommended mainstream diet of the past 40 years has been that of low fats, no saturated fats, high polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) and high carbohydrates! A killer! Such cocktail has been of tremendous injury to blood vessels and brain. Not only for the high dominance of refined carbohydrates but also for the toxic fats (margarines made of hydrogenated fats, high dominance of omega 6 fats over omega 3 fats).

Manipulation and industrialization of omega 6 fatty acids (that are naturally found in seeds but are damaged by industrial processing) can have profound effects on the degree of inflammation. In reality, saturated fatty acids (coconut oil, organic butter) in the diet result in much less inflammation than diets rich with polyunsaturated fatty acids (from seeds oils).

Dietary supplementation with omega 3 and limitation of omega 6 is good because it can reduce inflammation and make people less dependent on drug therapy to manage pain and stiffness of arthritis or other inflammatory diseases. Consumption of pro-inflammatory omega 6 should be lowered.

In addition, fat cells (created by overeating carbohydrates and NOT by eating fats!) release high quantities of other pro-inflammatory chemicals originating further injury.

The fats in fat cells are triglycerides: high levels of these fats (and not of cholesterol!) have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglyceride levels are known to rise from eating too many grains and sugars, plus being physically inactive, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol excessively.

Thus, in summary, the chronic injury due to high consumption of carbohydrates and omega 6 fatty acids creates ----- both oxidative stress and ----- chronic inflammation ----- which leads in turn to -----an increase of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, dementia, Parkinson’s etc.

So the bottom line is:

  • limit your consumption of refined carbohydrates (replace with whole grains, like rye, barley, oat, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat). [BTW, another good reason to limit your sugar consumption: sugar effectively disables certain aspects of the immune system!]

  • Limit your consumption of seeds oils (soya, sunflower, safflower, etc.) to the advantage of coconut butter and good sourced butter

  • Make sure to have a good amount of omega 3 in your diet with fish, flax and flax oil

  • Consume great amounts of antioxidants (in vegetables, fruits,exta virgin olive oil, red wine etc.) to improve your body natural capacity to protect itself from oxidation.

If you are confused about the many different recommendations on food that come from doctors, magazines, tv, I can help you understand the different controversies about fats, carbohydrates, animal vs plant food, paleodiet and more.

I can also help in designing a personalized diet to control your body weight, limit your inflammatory conditions, prevent diseases, age happily and healthy! Just drop me a text, an email or call me and we can have a chat on phone, skype or in person.

Happy eating!


2005 Dickinson S, DP Hancock DP, Petocz P, et al. "High glycemic index carbohydrate mediates an acute proinflammatory process as measured by NF-kappaB activation." Asia Pac J Clin Nutr;14 Suppl:S120

2005 Fishel MA, Watson GS, Montine TJ. "Hyperinsulinemia provokes synchronous increases in central inflammation and beta-amyloid in normal adults." Arch Neurol Oct;62(10):1539-44

2005 Lankin VZ, Lisina MO, Arzamastseva NE, Konovalova GG, Nedosugova LV, Kaminnyi AI, Tikhaze K, Ageev FT, Kuliliarchul, V, Belenkov YN. Oxidative stress in atherosclerosis and diabetes. Bull Exp Bioi Med.; 140:41-3. 55.

2005 Schulze MB, Hoffmann K, Manson JE. "Dietary pattern, inflammation, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in women" Am J Clin Nutr Sep;82(3):675-84, quiz 714-5.

2005 Sorensen LB, Raben A, Stender S, et al. "Effect of sucrose on inflammatory markers in overweight humans" Am J Clin Nutr 2005 Aug;82(2):421-7.

2004 Cejas P, Casado E, Belda-Iniesta C, De Castro J, Espinosa E, Redondo A, Sereno M, Garcia-Cabezas MA, Vara JA Implications of oxidative stress and cell membrane lipid peroxidation in human cancer (Spain). Cancer Causes Control.;15:707-19. 54.

1973 Sanchez A, et al. "Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis." Am J Clin Nutr, November:26:1180-1184. As cited in Clinical Pearls online.

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