• Dr. Lena Fernandez

Why Does Sugar Make My Joints Hurt?

I get asked frequently, how come every time I eat sugar, I notice the very next day joint pain? That's because you already have unhealthy joints. Each time you consume processed sugar, pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines are released from your body, which leads to pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints. Arthritis is a general term covering conditions that share joint pain and inflammation. There are several types of arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. CDC indicates that in the United States, 23% of all adults, over 54 million people have arthritis. About 24 million adults are limited in their activities from arthritis and more than 1 in 4 people with arthritis report severe joint pain. You are most likely diagnosed with arthritis or you know someone who's currently struggling with joint pain. Typical treatments involve anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs, steroids, and pain-reducing medications such as opiates. National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that roughly 128 people in the United States die daily from opioids overdose. That's about 47,000 deaths per year.



According to the International Journal of Medicine, you should not take NSAIDs or opioids for more than six months due to major side effects on the kidneys and liver. Steroids drugs such as prednisone should not be taken for more than six weeks due to immune suppression, high blood pressure, glaucoma, weight gain, electrolyte imbalance, and bone loss.

How did this happen?

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive. How does pain affect your mental health? Physical pain such as back, knee, and shoulder pain is a huge stressor on your body. Most people living with joint pain also have sleep disturbances, fatigue, trouble concentrating, increased sugar cravings, and mood changes. Prolonged chronic pain causes depression and anxiety. Now, you are a good candidate for another medication for the mood on top of pain reliever drugs. I totally get it, living with joint pain is exhausting mentally and physically, I struggled myself with sports injuries. A few years ago I had a complete right knee meniscus tear as I was training to qualify for the Boston marathon. I refused surgery, cortisone shots, and pain meds but thanks to regenerative injection therapies such as polo/PRP and stem cell, I can run again without pain. However, even though my joints have healed if and when I eat process sugar I get a flare-up on my injured knee. You have arthritis and you don't want to get into the cycle of depending on medications that cause major long-term side effects.

What should you do instead?

There’s no single diet alone to follow that will eliminate joint inflammation completely. However, research suggests including anti-inflammatory foods in your diet and limiting foods that may trigger joint pain is a must to prevent more joint damage. The first thing you should consider is to give sugar a rest. Sugar intake results in an increase in AGEs (advanced glycation end-products), which causes inflammation.


What should you do right now?

Cut out candies, processed foods, white flour baked goods, and sodas to reduce your arthritis.

In addition, work hard in losing excess weight. The research found obesity can lead to more active and severe rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. Extra weight also puts more pressure and stress on the joints, which can worsen the pain and stiffness associated with inflammatory arthritis.

The following tips can help you detox from sugar and improve joint pain: 1. Wean off sugar

If you can’t live without a double dose of sugar in your morning coffee, but don’t necessarily need two scoops of ice cream after dinner, drop ice cream from your diet first. Wean yourself from two sugars in your coffee to one, then to none, or an acceptable sugar substitute. The most important thing is to start making slow dietary changes that you can live with, which helps you stick with them in the long run. If you can’t cut sugar out completely, then reduce sugar intake by half the amount you eat daily. It's better to put half the dose of poison in your body than a full dose.

2. Ditch soft drinks

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest contributors to sugar in our American diets. A 20-ounce bottle of a popular soda brand contains 16 teaspoons of added sugar and 240 calories. Research shows that regularly consuming sugar-sweetened drinks is linked to weight gain, obesity, and inflammation which worsen arthritic symptoms. And a small study found that drinking the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar from soda per day led to an increase in inflammatory markers such as ESR (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate and CRP (C-Reactive Protein).

3. Read food labels for hidden “added sugars”

You never really know how much sugar a given food has until you read the nutrition facts label and ingredients list. Surprisingly non-sugary foods like crackers, nut butter, or frozen dinners can have a lot more hidden added sugar than you might realize. Reading labels can give you a sense of what’s in the food you eat regularly so you can start comparing.


You’ll start to see the new FDA-mandated nutrition facts panels on more packaged foods, which includes a separate line for grams of “added sugar” per serving. (Other changes: calories per serving and serving size will be bigger and bolder.)

4. Check the ingredients list

Ingredients in a given food are listed by weight; if there’s sugar in the top three, I would not bring it home. There are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels. Some common ones include sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, dextrose, invert sugar, maltose, and rice syrup, among others. Other more natural sugars such as honey and molasses still count as added sugar, which in my opinion, you should still avoid to reduce joint pain.

5. Swap in low sugar fruits for processed sugar

Fruit is naturally sweet and is part of a balanced diet. Your body can process the natural sugars in fruit without causing severe inflammation. Add slices of fresh strawberries to sweeten your oatmeal instead of brown sugar. Frozen fruits work too.

6. Swap chia pudding for sugary cereals

These can rank among the worst when it comes to added sugar. One popular kid cereal has 16 grams of sugar in just one cup, but healthier-sounding granola can have even more. A rich fiber and healthy fats food choices should be your go-to.



Chia pudding ingredients:

Start with two mason jars then add a half- cup of unsweetened almond milk, two tablespoonfuls of chia seeds, and 1/4 teaspoonful monk fruit. I recommend mixing the ingredients very well until all the chia seeds are incorporated into the milk. Lastly, close the mason jars, place it in the fridge for one to two hours for chia seeds to absorb the milk and sweetener, and be ready to eat then. And here you have it... my six tips to detox from sugar. However, in order to be healthy, stay active, and joint pain-free, you've got to create a daily plan of actions that's getting you stronger and not weaker... and if that means giving up sugar, then have the discipline to stick to it... because there is not such cookie-cutter approach when it comes to your health. It takes commitment and determination, which I know you've got it in you. And if you like to learn more about how to avoid sugar poison for good then click HERE to watch my video where I teach you exactly how to do that. Comment #replay when you watch my video so I can hop in there to answer your questions and give you a big shout out.


Much love,


Dr. Lena Fernandez

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