Can Too Much Sugar in the Diet Lead to Birth Defects?

All sugars eventually break down into glucose. Glucose, a sugar, has the potential to become cellular fuel. However, the cells can only use and absorb so much glucose at one time.

Excess glucose ends up linking up with proteins and fats, forming cross-links. After a certain amount of time, the cross-link between a sugar and a protein becomes permanent, and this is called an advanced glycation end product or AGE.

Excessive sugar consumption is a modern phenomenon. Just as most cases of diabetes are.

While our cells certainly use glucose for fuel, on a regular basis we consume far more sugar than we could ever use for fuel. Not only do most of us reach for sweet treats when we want an energy lift, but most convenience food is starchy, if not outright sugary.

In the case of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, cells no longer respond to insulin. Insulin is the little messenger that opens the door for glucose, or sugar, to enter into a cell. This leads to a buildup of sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia) and permanent cross-link, or AGE formation. Even if you are not diabetic or insulin resistant, you can still form AGEs.

AGEs are not good for adult health for the same reasons why they are not good for embryo and fetal development.

The permanent cross-link that forms between a protein and a sugar molecule has the ability to:

  • Block hormone receptors
  • Did you know that diabetic mothers are 3 to 4 times more likely to have babies with some kind of malformation? Eating a diet low in sugar can protect an expectant mother’s health and reduce the risk of a number of modern childhood diseases.

  • Interfere with immune function
  • Stiffen blood vessel walls, affecting proper blood flow
  • Disfigure red blood cells
  • Alter gene expression

Since AGEs can do all this in the body, it should come as no surprise that infants born to diabetic mothers are 3 to 4 times as likely to suffer from some kind of malformation. (1) This includes facial deformities like cleft palate and other, more life-threatening conditions such as neural tube defects. (2)

Don’t pregnant women take folic acid to prevent neural tube defects?

While doctors tell pregnant women to take a prenatal vitamin in order to prevent nutrient deficiency, the research tells us that they should also be warning mothers-to-be against excessive sugar consumption.

Birth defects and malformations occur on a scale of severity based on what has been going on in the mother’s body. This means that while neural tube defects reflect either severe deficiency or severe blood sugar issues (or both), if you have any deficiency or any issues with blood sugar, your developing baby is getting less than excellent tools to work with.

AGEs also produce free radicals in the body.

This is bad news for the adult who wants to age as little as possible but still consumes a high-sugar diet. This is even worse news for a pregnant mother who cannot control her blood sugar. Too many free radicals in the body actually damage DNA. Not only that, but it has been found that in developing embryos, AGEs will form with DNA, permanently altering its structure. (3) (4)

When is a developing baby an embryo? Only up until 8 weeks of gestation. Most women discover that they are pregnant within this timeframe, when it is possibly too late to make any last minute modifications in diet.

If you are thinking about getting pregnant, the best thing is to eat nutrient-dense foods and reduce sugar in the diet now so you are fully prepared to give your baby all the tools it needs to create a perfect and robust body. If you are already pregnant, controlling blood sugar and eating nutrient-dense foods are still good ideas and choices that your developing baby will benefit from.

What Is Too Much Sugar?

If you think that you eat healthy, but you eat processed foods or a grain-heavy diet, you are probably consuming too much sugar.

Remember, grains ultimately turn into sugar once they are consumed. As difficult as this may be to imagine, this means that the USDA Food Pyramid (or currently, MyPlate) is promoting unhealthy dietary habits!

Think of it this way: While human beings have been having babies for thousands upon thousands of years, sugar consumption has risen dramatically only in the past 100 years. And within that timeframe, many modern childhood diseases and learning disorders have become common.

One clue that your blood sugar may not be in control is if you get sleepy after eating meals. If this is the case:

  • Reduce the amount of sugar or carbohydrates that you eat.
  • Eat less and more frequently throughout the day.

Prevent AGEs from Ever Forming

Certain nutrients have been found to help prevent the formation of AGEs in the first place. The most notable is vitamin B6.

As always, it is best to get your vitamins from nutrient-dense foods, whether you are or are not pregnant.

  • Liver is one of the best sources of vitamin B6, along with several other nutrients that your body needs to function well.
  • Spirulina is another excellent source for vitamin B6. Like liver, Spirulina is a true superfood. Unlike liver, Spirulina is vegan-friendly and gives your body some nutrients that liver cannot provide. However, almost all Spirulina on the market is raw and very difficult to digest.  Super Spirulina Plus is a fermented Spirulina, unlocking the nutrition inside.
  • Meats such as turkey, chicken, and venison, along with fish such as salmon and cod provide your body with B6.
  • When shopping for animal foods, you want to be certain that they are 100% grass-fed or pastured in the case of poultry. This ensures that all the vitamins that you are looking for in the animal will actually be there!

What to Remember Most About This Article:

Sugars will break down into glucose in the body. But our bodies can only absorb so much glucose at one time. An excess of glucose will cause cross-links between a sugar and a protein, known as AGEs. Unfortunately, today we commonly eat more sugar than our bodies can ever use efficiently for fuel. This causes AGEs to form, which will impair healthy immune function, stiffen blood vessel walls, and even alter gene expression.

For this reason, babies born to diabetic mothers are 3 to 4 times more likely to have some kind of malformation.

Even if you eat healthy, eating too many grains or processed foods will cause a sugar overload in your body. To prevent harmful AGEs from forming, focus on getting healthy vitamins, like vitamin B6, from nutrient-dense foods in your diet. This will stop the formation of AGEs before they start to protect your health, especially as a mother-to-be!

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  1. J S Sheffield, et al. Maternal diabetes mellitus and infant malformations. Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Nov; 100 (5 Pt 1): 925 – 930.
  2. E L Fine, et al. Evidence that elevated glucose causes altered gene expression, apoptosis, and neural tube defects in a mouse model of diabetic pregnancy. Diabetes. 1999 Dec; 48 (12): 2454-2462.
  3. N Ahmed. Advanced glycation endproducts – Role in pathology of diabetic complications. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 2005; 67 (1): 3 – 21.
  4. A T Lee. Hyperglycemia-induced embryonic dysmorphogenesis correlates with genomic DNA mutation frequency in vitro and in vivo. Diabetes. 1999 Feb; 48 (2): 371-376.
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