Sugar can negatively affect your body in a number of ways, not least contributing to the development of Type 2 diabetes. With it being Type 2 Diabetes Prevention week (May 10-16) we take a look at some of the ways sugar impacts your health. 

By Rachel Tompkins

Sugar affects your skin 

Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and so inevitably high blood sugar has a huge impact on it. ‘Eating too much food with a high glycaemic index can lead to inflammation, which affects skin,’ says Dr Rekha Tailor. ‘Refined sugar in sweets and fizzy drinks has been proven to feed bad bacteria, upsetting your body’s delicate balance and increasing your risk of skin breakouts.

‘As well as causing acne, excess sugar can also aggravate skin conditions such as eczema,’ she adds. ‘Reduce your intake of anything with a high sugar content, including most alcoholic drinks – these can result in increased breakouts as well as loss of collagen and a dull complexion.

‘Too much sugar in your blood prompts your body to get fluid from your cells instead, in order to produce enough urine to then remove the sugar,’ says Dr Tailor. ‘This in turn causes skin to become dry, red and irritated.’

Sugar can contribute to hair loss

Hundreds of women experience hair loss. In fact, NHS England estimates that it affects around eight million women in the UK. It can lead to a number of psychological problems including poor self-esteem and heightened self-consciousness. ‘A high sugar intake spikes your blood sugar levels, which can damage hair follicles and potentially accelerate hair loss,’ says Dr Tailor. ‘It can also cause inflammation of the scalp leading to loss of quality and quantity of hair. Too much sugar can cause dry scalp, dandruff and damaged hair follicles.’

It affects your teeth 

High blood sugar leads to microvascular changes in the blood vessels, as well as altering the membrane in the salivary glands. ‘This leads to more glucose leaking from the ductal cells of the salivary glands,’ explains Cosmetic Dentist Dr Hanna Kinsella ( ‘As a result the glucose content in the saliva increases, putting teeth at higher risk of enamel erosion and tooth decay.’

Sugar can affect your vision and eye health

sugar can affect your eyes

Inflammation and high blood sugar can also affect your eyes. ‘High blood sugar levels cause the small retinal blood vessels in the eye to become leaky, which leads to reduced perfusion of the retina,’ says leading oculoplastic and ophthalmic surgeon, Dr Elizabeth Hawkes of the Cadogan Clinic in London.

‘Areas of reduced perfusion lack of oxygen and nutrients, which stimulates the growth of new vessels, called neo-vascularisation. Whilst this sounds like a good thing, it’s not as these vessels are fragile and prone to bleeding, which is one of the causes of reduced vision in diabetics,’ she says.

Another cause of reduced vision from diabetes is macula oedema. The macula is the part of the retina associated with central vision; leaky vessels cause an accumulation of fluid in the macula. This is called diabetic macula oedema, and is the most common cause of reduced vision in diabetic eye disease.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness. In the UK, all diabetics are screened annually for retinal changes as if diagnosed early, lifestyle and dietary advice can prevent more severe complications.

Other eye health issues

Lens changes: Studies have shown that increased blood sugar is associated with an increase in sorbitol levels in the lens of the eye, which in turn accelerates cataract formation. Diabetics classically develop cataracts earlier on in life compared to people without diabetes.

Corneal changes: Dry eye syndrome is a common problem in patients with diabetes. Due to reduced circulation to the anterior surface of the eye and reduced sensation of the corneal nerves leave the eye vulnerable to dry eye syndrome.

What to do: ‘Prevention is better than cure, so have eye health checks, keep your blood pressure and blood sugar levels healthy, don’t smoke, drink alcohol in moderation, and take regular exercise,’ advises Dr Hawkes. Early signs of leaky retinal vessel are dot haemorrhages in the retina. ‘Sometimes diabetes is first diagnosed by an eye surgeon t a routine eye exam, as any dot haemorrhages will trigger a referral to the GP for further investigation.’

Read more about how alcohol affects those with diabetes