Sugar is so effective at inhibiting bacterial growth it is routinely used as a natural food preservative and wound remedy. But sugar’s antimicrobial effects are only limited to its use as an additive or topical application. A diet that’s high in sugar can make the body more vulnerable to infection and promote bacterial growth.
When applied to wounds, sugar (and the sugar-rich substance honey) reduces swelling, prevents scabbing and supports the growth of new tissue. Sugar is recognized for its ability to speed healing and minimize scarring, it is a time-honored wound remedy that was used long before bacteria was known to be the cause of infection 1.
In addition to imparting sweetness to food, sugar is regularly utilized as a preservative to delay spoilage. Since sugar absorbs water, it hinders bacterial growth through dehydration.
White blood cells rely on vitamin C to ingest bacteria and viruses. But since sugar and vitamin C have similar chemical structures, ingested sugars can compete with vitamin C and preclude it from entering cells.
Oral bacteria convert sugar into various acids that degrade enamel, thus facilitating tooth decay. Since oral bacteria reside in a wet environment, sugar’s dehydration effects are muted and the bacteria metabolize the substance instead.
Sugar’s success as a wound remedy and food preservative lies primarily in its ability to deprive bacteria of water that is essential for growth. But excessive consumption of sugar can compromise immune function and promote bacterial growth in the body.
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