How Does Sugar Affect RA?

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a widespread inflammatory arthritis. Though it primarily affects your joint structures, it can also cause inflammation in other parts of the body including non-joint structures. The good news, there are plenty of options to control the disease, though it’s incurable. What you eat may help. How about your dietary sugar?

Overload of sugar is bad

Sugar, the white stuff we know, is a molecule derived from atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (C12H22O11) – like compounds formed from these 3 elements, it is a carbohydrate .

Also called sucrose, sugar is easily found in many plants particularly sugarcane and sugar beets. Dry sugar looks like cube-like crystals (orderly arrangements from molecules of sucrose). Sucrose is actually composed from two simpler substances, fructose and glucose. With a little bit of acid (in recipes), it will break down into these 2 components.

Sugar is the main source of your energy, though the body can also get energy from proteins and fats. During digestion, sugar and all food carbohydrates break down into molecule sugars which then absorbed from the intestine into the circulation (bloodstream). Molecule sugars in the bloodstream, also called blood sugar, go into the cells of the body where they’re used for energy.

As long as you eat sugar in moderation, the body can regulate it as well in the circulation. On the other hand, overload of sugar in long term can lead to a number of serious health problems.


Your insulin, hormone released by pancreas, is responsible to regulate the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. When your blood sugar level increases (during and after eating a meal, for example), more insulin is released to allow more molecule sugars travel into cells of the body. As a result, your blood sugar decreases, so does your insulin level afterward.

Diet high in sugar can affect your insulin performance. In long term, your insulin sensitivity decreases. The cells of the body can also be more resistant to the action of insulin. Over time, this can lead to type-2 diabetes (the most common form of diabetes mellitus).

It can make your organs fat

The fructose, typically found in added sugars, can trigger your body to store fat more efficiently in the liver. In time, overload fructose could trigger globules of fat to form in the liver, leading to a condition called ‘nonalcoholic fatty liver disease’.

It can hurt your heart

In fact, diabetes and heart disease are intricately linked. Even heart disease is one of common diabetes complications.

Furthermore, chronic excess insulin in the circulation is bad for your arteries (the body’s circulatory highway system). When insulin released by pancreas is too high – the smooth muscle cells around your blood vessels can grow rapidly (faster than normal), causing tense artery walls.

So if you do love your heart, make sure to keep your blood sugar level normal, this is especially true if you’re a diabetic.

Bad for your blood cholesterol levels

Though the link between high cholesterol and diet high in sugar is still debatable, some studies suggest that your dietary sugar may have a role to promote cholesterol chaos. According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who get used to high-sugar diet are at high risk of having a spike in triglycerides and LDL (bad cholesterols).

What else?
  1. What you eat can make you feel better, but overload of sugar may make you feel depressed according to a report released in the Public Health Journal. Even in people with insulin resistance, it may trigger the brain to reduce the production of feel-good dopamine.
  2. More excess sugar you eat will cause more serotonin. Serotonin is a sleep regulator, making you more difficult to keep awake (drowsiness).
  3. It is also bad for your body’s ability to signal when you’re full. In long term, it can make you to frequently feel hungry, even though when you’re actually already overeating – according to an emerging research.
  4. It’s not only bad for your weight control, but also bad for your skin. High sugar in the circulation may cause harmful molecules called ‘AGEs /advanced glycation end products’ to form. AGEs can damage protein fibers found in the collagen and elastin (these components are responsible to promote firm and elastic skin) – as a result, you tend to have winkles and saggy skin.

How does sugar affect rheumatoid arthritis?

Actually, inflammation is the normal response of the body to injury and infection. It is the way of your body to defend /heal itself by sending white cells (immune cells) and essential nutrients to the areas /parts of the body that need them most.

These fighter cells travel through increased blood flow to the affected area with redness, swelling, warmth or pain – symptoms that describe the word ‘inflammation’. For example when you have a tiny cut in your finger that turns into a little red and swells, that’s inflammation!

A normal inflammation that heals in time is completely different to a state of when you have chronic inflammation, a condition in which your inflammation is out of control. Chronic inflammation can be counterproductive and dangerous.

RA is a chronic inflammatory arthritis. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning it is linked to the malfunction of the body immune system. Without known reason, immune system gets malfunctioned and mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues. RA starts to occur when abnormal immune system attacks membrane covering the joint called ‘synovium’, causing inflammation that affect other joint structures such as cartilage and bone.

Like most things in autoimmune disease, RA affects the body systematically. In other words, it can cause widespread inflammation and affect many parts of the body including non-joint structures. Therefore it’s not uncommon to find people with RA to also experience other medical conditions such as heart disease, skin disorder, and lung disease (see more RA complications in here).

Since RA can lead to serious complications, management and control of the disease is very important. It’s incurable – there is still no any curative therapy. But with appropriate treatment, you can manage it or even drive it go into remission (period without symptoms) for years and you can have an expected average lifespan.

Certain lifestyle measures may help, too. Though there is no specific diet for RA, foods that promote more inflammation should be restricted. How about sugar?

When you have RA, the inflammatory state of your body goes awry and becomes out of control. Overload of sugar (especially refined sugar) can drive more chronic inflammation, making your RA symptoms worse.

And did you know that RA can also increase your risk of developing type-2 diabetes (read more in this section)? Even in general, people with RA can have about 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes.

The effect of high-sugar diet to your chronic inflammation may get worse with other factors such as overweight, sedentary lifestyle, experiencing lots of stress, smoking, or breathing polluted air.

So in general, what you eat matters if you have RA. Wrong choices are not only bad for your chronic inflammation, but also may contribute to set up for other chronic conditions associated with RA such as diabetes and heart disease as noted before. Overload sugar is not the only one to blame – the following foods /ingredients are also potential to trigger more inflammation:


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