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Sugar is more deadly than we thought

May 4, 2020
Mark Killick
Survival rate graphic with diabetes and COVID

Whilst living under quarantine conditions, it has been very easy to allow ourselves lots of so called ‘treats’. According to new data, vodka, red bull and chocolate are flying of the shelves of corner shops and convenience stores. But are they really ‘treats’ if they can lead to poor blood glucose control, which turns out to be a major risk factor for COVID-19 severity?

To put it in simple terms, your chances of survival from COVID-19 should you require hospital treatment are better if you have well-controlled blood glucose levels than if you don’t.

A recent study¹ carried out in China on 7,336 COVID-19 patients found the following:

  • Those patients with diabetes had an increased need for medical interventions during COVID-19.
  • Having diabetes increased the mortality risk of those patients with COVID-19.
  • Well-controlled blood glucose correlated with improved outcomes in infected patients.

A staggering 35% of the UK population are pre-diabetic, which means that they have poor blood glucose control, and so increase the risk of a poor outcome if they contract COVID-19.

The good news is that blood sugar can be controlled with diet. This means removing sugar such as chocolate bars, Reducing the amount of starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and potatoes and eating a diet containing whole foods like vegetables, fish, meats and low sugar fruits.

Younger people seem to be at lower risk of severe outcomes from the virus, but their consumption of caffeine energy drinks like red bull, will have disastrous results on their ability to regulate blood sugar. One study² on energy drink consumption reported, “Results show that consumption of a caffeine-containing energy drink results in a 20-30% increase in insulin and glucose levels in response to a glucose load. Since caffeine persists in the system for four to six hours after consumption, continuous insulin resistance associated with regular caffeine containing energy drink consumption in adolescents could contribute to metabolic risk in susceptible individuals later in life through persistent interference with their regular glucose metabolism.”

Should the food industry, supermarkets and government be held responsible? Joan Taylor of De Montfort University, Leicester, a leading authority on diabetes research feels very strongly about the way in which sugary food is marketed. She said,

“Marketing high-sugar content products should be a punishable offence because it is murder, or at least manslaughter, by stealth.”

Personally, I feel that the answer lies in education. We need to educate children from a young age how nutrition impacts health. How to choose healthy food, and how to cook healthy food that we leave us feeling satisfied and content. And above all, realise that we are not “treating” our children when we feed them high sugar foods like sweets, chocolate and cereals.

¹Zhu, L. She, Z. Cheng, X. et al. (2020) Association of blood glucose control and outcomes in patients with COVID-19 and pre-existing type-2 diabetes Cell Metabolism

²Shearer, J., 2014. Methodological and metabolic considerations in the study of caffeine-containing energy drinks. Nutrition Reviews, 72, pp.137-145