Endometriosis Part 2: The link between sugar and the immune system
In the last two decades sugar consumption has gone up by 31%, but interestingly sales of sugar in bags has decreased. Sugar is just as addictive as nicotine and heroin – it affects the same system within the brain, the opioid system. Too much glucose in the blood from sugar and unrefined carbohydrates is now widely recognised as harmful to the body and, similar to a drug, the more we have the more our body thinks it needs.
Sugar and its food products can interfere with the way the white blood cells of your immune system clear up the debris. Reducing your intake of these foods can have a direct beneficial impact on your immune system.
Sugar also reduces the number of beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. As this bacteria is needed for us to absorb nutrients from our food, a diet high in sugar can quickly lead to poor nutrition and vulnerability to gut complaints. It hinders the absorption of the minerals calcium, chromium and Magnesium we need for a fully functioning hormonal system and energy production. Chromium and magnesium are also fundamental for balancing the amount of glucose in our system, therefore without these nutrients in full supply, we can suffer from a blood sugar condition called hypoglycaemia that can then lead to diabetes. Sugar also blocks your production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, actively encouraging the inflammatory nature of endometriosis.
In addition, sugar increases fat, which increases oestrogen production. Sugar, like alcohol, is also an anti-nutrient, depleting the body of valuable vitamins and minerals. Eating foods with sugar causes your pancreas to produce insulin and can encourage an increase in fat cells and, of course, weight gain. Fat cells produce something called aromatase enzyme and produces small amounts of oestrogen. Therefore the more fat cells you have the more oestrogen you produce. Hence a diet of excess sugar has a link to breast cancer as well. Too much glucose in the bloodstream also encourages the production of prostaglandin 2 (PGE2), the chemical released by our immune system to cause inflammation.
Our immune system is not just responsible for fighting off colds and flu, it is also essential in the healing process. It does this by releasing a sophisticated cocktail of chemicals named ‘prostaglandins’ that either increase or decrease inflammation. This inflammatory status is a natural protective mechanism to cushion delicate tissue and organs against a threat - something seen as physiologically abnormal and wrong. This process uses a vast amount of nutrients. It then uses these nutrients to heal the damage and regulate the inflammation.
Women with endometriosis do not have strong immune systems. The natural ‘killer’ cells of the immune system do not work as effectively as they should; endometrial patches that should be regarded as ‘invaders’ and destroyed by chemicals released by the immune system, are not. Instead, they are left intact to roam and migrate to other parts of the body, further evoking inflammation. As we know the immune system of a woman with endometriosis is suggested to be weaker than the norm, therefore it is vitally important to support this system in order to control the inflammatory process.
The hormone system and the immune system require many of the same nutrients, such as the B Vitamin family (especially B6) Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, methionine and Vitamins A and E. If any of these are in short supply it can compromise both your immune function and your reproductive system.
For more on the causative factors behind Endometriosis see 'Endometriosis Part 1: Nutrient deficiencies'