Sugar Invites Infection to Dinner


Immune System

Sugar Invites Infection to Dinner

Bacteria and viruses have a sweet tooth - sugar lowers white blood cell activity

By Mark Zuleger-Thyss/Garden of Healing



Viruses and pathogens can affect many body systems, including the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, skin, liver, and brain. Cold and flu viruses are the most familiar, with over 62 million cases of the common cold and over 25 million cases of the flu occurring in the U.S. every year. While governments are pushing to inoculate people against Coronavirus, here is something you can do to help avoid widespread infections. Steer clear of sugar.

Within ten minutes of ingesting sugar, the immune system becomes suppressed. In fact, many studies have shown that sugar reduces the ability of your white blood cells to engulf bacteria by 40%. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that acts as an essential first line-of-defense in the immune system by destroying pathogens through a process called phagocytosis. Ingesting simple carbohydrates, including glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, and orange juice, will hamper the job neutrophils were created to do - eating the bad guys. Sugar invites infection to dinner - and your body is the main course.

Optimal nutrition regulates immune function and supports your body's ability to fight off pathogens. Eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and clean foods contributes to a healthier, more resilient foundation of health. Choose foods that provide a steady stream of critical nutrients. Diets centered around whole plant foods stimulate natural killer cell activity. Natural killer cells are part of the innate immune response that seeks out pathogens, including viruses responsible for common respiratory infections.



New diets – new paths forward

Try adding the following plant-based foods. They have properties that make them good choices for bolstering the immune system.

  • Medicinal mushrooms contain antioxidants and polysaccharides to regulate immunity and reduce inflammation.
  • Richly colored fruits and vegetables signal the presence of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Carotenes, polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanidins - we need them all to stay healthy.
  • Bitter greens like dandelion and arugula promote liver health. They help to support robust natural killer cell production and proper T-cell function.
  • Whole grains and legumes provide ample fiber for a healthy gut. Your gut is a significant center of immune activity and it is essential to keep it well balanced.
  • Flax seeds are a good source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Adding healthy fats to meals aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and E.


Sugar is a dead end

Eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods weakens your immune system and increases the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and weight gain.

What does 152 pounds of sugar a year look like? It equates to 2.92 pounds - or 6 cups - of sugar consumed in one week by the average American.

Sugar comes in two forms – those occurring in whole foods and sugars added to processed foods. Overeating any type of sugar can become a problem but added sugars can be far more harmful. Soft drinks, fruit juices, and baked goods are popular sources of sugar. Be suspicious of others, those less-obvious foods such as marinara sauce, packaged meats, and bottled teas.

100 grams of sugar can decrease neutrophils' ability (white blood cells) to destroy harmful bacteria. 100 grams is the amount of sugar found in two 16-ounce soft drinks.



The downsides of sugar on the body

  • High-sugar foods have few if any nutrients leading to undernourishment
  • Too much sugar contributes to low-grade chronic inflammation
  • High sugar intake may contribute to oxidative stress brought on by damaging free radicals
  • Excess sugar is associated with a "sticky situation" called glycation which inhibits proteins from doing their jobs. This weakens antibodies' ability to fight infection.
  • Large amounts of sugar increase your risk of insulin resistance
  • Excess sugar is associated with poor gut health – your microbiota goes out of balance resulting in a condition called dysbiosis
  • Increases overgrowth of the candida yeast organism
  • Sugar creates imbalances in neurotransmitters such as dopamine, your brain's reward chemical, and serotonin, your feel-good hormone. This can increase anxiety and irritability
  • Eating processed sugar can make you crave more, leading to addiction
  • Poor liver health is associated with excess sugar intake. This can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), where too much fat gets stored in your liver
  • Diets high in sugar can create physiological and psychological stress, impacting your liver, other organs, and hormones
  • Sugar can increase chronic fatigue
  • Sugar promotes tooth decay


Sugar has a significant impact on our gut flora – the microbiome. Its harmful effect on the immune system can last up to five hours, and especially during periods of stress, like holidays or life changes, it is best to avoid it altogether. Plant foods, by contrast, promote beneficial gut bacteria and are generally anti-inflammatory.



A robust immune response relies on many body systems and cell types working together to identify and remove viruses and other pathogens. Eat nutrient-dense whole foods, cut out sugar, keep your immune system resilient, and viruses and other pathogens will stay at bay.

© 2021 Mark Zuleger-Thyss/Garden of Healing. All rights reserved.

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