While we all know that sugar in moderation is best, researchers say that starving HIV of sugar may put a stop to the virus. When the virus enters an activated immune cell, it takes energy from sugar and nutrients in order to replicate. Cut off the supply of sugar, the theory goes, and HIV can’t replicate in the cell.
Now researchers at Northwestern Medicine and Vanderbilt University say they’ve found a way to cut off the sugar pipeline to the immune cell, which in effect, would starve the virus.
“It’s essential to find new ways to block HIV growth, because the virus is constantly mutating,” says Harry Taylor, a scientist at Northwestern Medicine’s HIV Translational Research Center. “A drug targeting HIV that works today may be less effective a few years down the road, because HIV can mutate itself to evade the drug.”
This new approach has several benefits, including applications to cancer treatment (another disease with a powerful sweet tooth) and reduction in organ damage in HIV-positive patients. HIV causes an abnormal proliferation of immune cells, which can cause inflammation and damage to organs over time, even in patients who are on antiretroviral treatment.
“This discovery opens news avenues for further research to solve todays persisting problems in treating HIV infection: avoiding virus resistance to medicines, decreasing the inflammation that leads to premature aging, and maybe even one day being able to cure HIV infection,” says Richard D’Aquila, director of Northwestern’s HIV Translational Research Center.
Now, we’re not advocating reducing your sugar intake to zero. Our bodies need sugar to survive and the information above relates to clinical procedures in the lab. There’s lots of scaremongering in the news lately about the need to reduce sugar, the war on sugar and many people are coming out to inform us all how bad it is!
As a nation, we’re being told we need to seriously reduce our sugar intake and recent reports have destroyed the notion that it’s OK to indulge a sweet tooth, even modestly.
The World Health Organisation recommends reducing sugar to below 5 per cent of total energy intake. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition also agree with this assessment. Our own NHS is suggesting the maximum daily amount of sugar for an adult is the equilivent of 7 cubes. Check out their site here: https://www.nhs.uk/change4life-beta/campaigns/sugar-smart/sugar-facts
In all cases, “sugar” here means added sugar. This is the type added to processed food and present in honey, syrups and juices, rather than lactose (the sugar in milk) and the sugars in whole fruits and vegetables.
Limited to 3 per cent of total energy, sugar intake equates to just 15g a day, or fewer than four level teaspoons. This means no more sweet treats (a slice of Battenburg contains 24g), and restricts the eating of even nutritious foods such as yogurt (a pot of the strawberry variety typically contains 14g of free sugars).
But is this recommendation actually desirable or practical?
“The claim that sugar should contribute only 3 per cent of energy is not based on good quality scientific evidence,” says registered nutritionist Sigrid Gibson.
Behind the Headlines, the section of the NHS Choices website that evaluates health news stories, agrees, writing that the BMC Public Health study has “many potential limitations, thereby reducing its reliability”.
“For tooth decay, between-meal snacking is the problem,” says Gibson.
Despite the clamour to cut sugar to help solve the obesity crisis, the evidence isn’t clear-cut here either. In fact, in many countries there is a “sugar-fat seesaw”, with those reducing their sugar intake eating more fat, which has more than twice the calories of sugar.
“Children and teenagers are eating too much sugar, with the average 11- to 18-year-old getting 15.5 per cent of their energy from sugar,” says registered dietitian Penny Hunking. “But you can still be healthy if you eat a variety of foods, and your free or added sugar intake is up to around 50g a day.”
A 50g limit allows for normal family meals, including a bowl of bran flakes, a small (150ml) glass of orange juice, pot of fruit-flavoured yogurt and a digestive biscuit every day.
“Scare-mongering messages about sugar perpetuate a myth that individual nutrients are good or bad, while we should be talking about dietary patterns as a whole,” says Gibson.
In short, yes it’s a good idea to control your sugar intake but not because of your HIV status or because there’s a push to inform people that sugar is bad. It’s important to understand sugar in context. The best nutritional advice has always been to eat a variety of foods and that a varied diet can include sugars. While a diet high in sugars and sugar-containing foods may impact on calorie intake and weight, and therefore on diabetes and heart disease, sugar-containing foods particularly those that contain other nutrients can be included in a balanced diet.
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