Oh Sugar, Really? You’re Giving Me Joint Pain and Inflammation?


Cube of brown and white sugar cubesSlavery is alive and well in our society, but it’s not what you may think.  Americans are slaves to sugar, and the bonds are tightening every year at a rate of nearly 2%.  Back in the 1700s, before the conveniences of modern industrialized life, we consumed, on average, 4 pounds of sugar per year. Nowadays, it’s more like 78 pounds per year.  This infographic puts our sugar indulgence in perspective.

And how is that affecting us?  Is it any wonder or coincidence that disease rates have followed a similar sharp increase, as we have been adopting a high-sugar/high-refined carbohydrate diet over the years?  It has taken us many years to finally connect the dots between sugar and disease.

It has been a long road because first, we had to come to understand inflammation and disease and then sugar and inflammation.  We also went through a phase of fearing and blaming fat, while turning a blind eye to and cranking up our sugar consumption via highly processed foods and beverages.

It starts with chronic inflammation and intestinal permeability (leaky gut)

It is now common knowledge that chronic, low-grade inflammation is where disease starts.  Inflammation is the body’s immune response to conditions like infection, injury, fatty acid imbalance or foreign substances like undigested proteins or bacterial waste products called endotoxins finding their way into the bloodstream.  They maneuver their way into the bloodstream when the tightly fitting cells of the intestinal mucosal lining spread apart, which is called intestinal permeability.  This occurs for a number of reasons.

One big reason is gut microbial imbalance, which can result from antibiotic use and/or a low-fiber/high- sugar diet.  Another probable cause of intestinal permeability is emulsifiers in pharmaceuticals and processed foods.  A third and major cause of intestinal permeability is gluten consumption, which causes this issue by stimulating the release of a protein called zonulin.

When toxins and proteins get into the blood stream, the immune system recognizes them as foreign, or non-self, and proceeds to attack the perpetrator as well as its own tissues with inflammatory chemical messengers called cytokines.  This is the essence of autoimmunity.

Genetics determine your weakest link organs and tissues, so to speak, and those can end up taking the brunt of the inflammatory response.  This is why, in response to intestinal permeability, microbial imbalance and even the same environmental trigger, such as gluten, one person will develop Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, another will develop Rheumatoid Arthritis, another will develop Sjogren’s and so on.  In this indirect fashion, by promoting microbial imbalance, sugar can be a major culprit in not only autoimmune diseases, but the secondary symptoms that come with them. Autoimmune super symptoms, which includes joint pain, is discussed elsewhere on this website.

An estimated 52.5 million U.S. adults (about 1 in 5) report having doctor-diagnosed arthritis (inflammation of the joints) an autoimmune condition.  Arthritis is also the nation’s most common cause of disability.  It limits the activities of 22.7 million Americans—for example, preventing them from being able to climb stairs or walk more than short distances.  Not all joint pain stems from autoimmunity, so where is all of this inflammation coming from?

Sugars, carbs, blood sugar and inflammation

Sugars, particularly refined and processed sugars and even those from refined grains, cause and/or contribute to inflammation in ways other than fueling the autoimmune fire via microbial imbalance or perpetuating intestinal permeability.  Whether or not you have autoimmunity or are predisposed to it, when you eat sugary foods and drink sugary beverages, you will get a sharp spike in blood sugar and insulin levels.  In response to a sugar-laden meal or snack, the body typically pumps out more insulin than is needed, and a subsequent blood sugar crash ensues.  This then leads to intense hunger and carbohydrate/sugar cravings in order to bring the blood sugar back up.

Unfortunately, that intense hunger most often leads to another sugar binge, causing the blood sugar to spike again, and the cycle just keeps repeating itself.  This is bad news from multiple angles for those who suffer from joint pain, whether autoimmune in nature or not.  The first reason is that high blood sugar alone causes inflammation.  What’s worse is that these intense swings in blood sugar cause even more inflammation than sustained high blood sugar.  Beyond blood sugar, elevated insulin levels lead to inflammation and increased pain as well.  So, if you have joint pain as well as a potato chip, pasta or candy bar addiction, you can expect to continue having joint pain until you break your addiction to carbs and sugar.

A secondary problem with high blood sugar is that it promotes the production of advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs.  AGEs are inflammatory compounds that form when excess protein and sugar bind together.  These compounds prematurely age our bodies and have been linked to many different serious health concerns, all stemming from increased inflammation.

Break the sugar habit = decrease inflammation and joint pain

Eating for optimal blood sugar, meaning not skipping meals and focusing your palate on getting just the right amounts of quality proteins, healthy fats and colorful veggies, with added sugars, processed foods, refined and even whole grains taking a smaller role, is a great way to lower your intake and production of AGEs and improve your overall inflammatory status.  This will not only help to decrease inflammation and pain, it will help to prevent premature or excessive aging and chronic disease.

When we break the sugar habit, we are able to appreciate the sweetness of whole foods like fruits and vegetables; however, forever abstaining from sweet treats is a bit more austere than most of us care to live our lives.  What we can do is choose alternatives to sugar that provide intense sweetness without the dramatic glycemic (blood sugar) impact.  Coconut palm sugar and honey are examples of sugar alternatives with lower glycemic indexes.

Just make sure to eat alternatively sweetened treats just as sparingly as you would sugar-laden treats.  Most still contain simple sugars, which if eaten to excess or along with a high-carbohydrate meal, can contribute to increased inflammation and joint pain.  For an extensive breakdown of the natural sweeteners available and their respective glycemic index ratings, see this list.

Reducing your sugar intake and eating for optimal blood sugar is one of the most fundamental things you can do to reduce inflammation and pain.  You can eat loads of superfoods and take all of the best anti-inflammatory supplements, but if you’re not covering the basics with your diet, you will continue to live in pain.  Balance your blood sugar and be amazed at the changes you feel.


About the Author

Angie King-Nosseir MS, RD is an Integrative and Functional Registered Dietitian, with a passion for walking with people along their path toward health transformation. Angie has a Master’s degree in Nutrition, is a Certified LEAP Therapist, corporate wellness health coach, freelance nutrition and wellness writer, and certified yoga instructor. She is trained in Functional Nutrition and Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine and in Food as Medicine through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

This post contains opinions of the author. is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances.  Camino Real Ventures, Inc., the company that makes available to you, does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website.  Your use of the website is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy



  1. I’m been drink soda for the majority of my life, and, as a result, I’ve developed diabetes. I had no clue that your sugar intake can actually affect inflammation and joint pain. What is an optimal blood sugar level?

  2. using “slavery” as a term to describe what is actually an addiction is pretty dumb and what youd expect from a clueless white person. stop being stupid and try being professional and scientific and describe it as what it really is: an addiction. this post contains the opinions of the reader.

    • White person? Only a racist would say that

    • Calm down, you were not a slave, it’s just a word…can’t hurt you

    • “What youd expect from a Clueless white person “,Greg you are a RACIST dog, and picking on someone who has made a good effort to helpnin people in general whatever there color .actions speak louder than words,let people be creative with there words dog,have you heard the weeknd ,he doesnt hold back with his words and if he did there would be no creativity ,loosen up and stop picking on white people

      • Avatar Rita Larson says

        Totally agree…..calm down and keep racism out of this. This article was meant to help, not hurt. So what if he used an analogy you don’t agree with? It compares addiction to slavery which is a very sane and anti-racist way of looking at it. If it gets people’s attention and makes them think, he should be commended.


    • This is a rational, valid response, Greg. Its plain as day , as affirmed by the response from the author themselves, that she and her readers are racist, white supremacists. I obviously cant trust any information here and will find a more credible source- there are many.

      • The author is equating slavery with a bad thing. I think we all agree slavery was utterly disgraceful. A slave was somebody who had no choice and was under the control of others. The analogy was not meant to lessen the terror and horror of slavery but was just to highlight that in an infinitely lesser sense that an addiction is being forced to do more of what is bad for us.
        Slavery was and is a disgusting abuse.

      • Avatar Mind mix says

        You have no right to refer to anything as “rational” when you’ve taken a perfectly innocent, analogy and turned it into a racist comment. You and Greg are simply looking for trouble where there is none.

  3. Yes its an addiction. But the author used slavery as us being slaves or hostages to the food corporations that make the crap food that is sold to us. They know that sugar causes addiction and that’s why in the 80s food started getting packed with more sugar. They are doing this on purpose at the expense of our health to make a dollar. Sorry to inform you but slavery is not just a term to do with race. Read a book.

  4. Agree with Matt
    why to pinpoint non relevant and take the topic in useless direction. Reduce sugar that’s all. What I learnt here.

  5. I have been obese my entire life. I stand 5’2″ female and graduated high school at 240 pounds. My weight continued to sky rocket. Although I was always large, I work hard and play hard. I was 24 and 312 pounds a point of no return. I had the gastric bypass. I was pleased with the results. I got down to 184 and an excellent waitress which was success for me. I got pregnant and had to slow down. The weight flew back on until last year, and at 34 years the scale now said 304. I decided to do the paleo diet. Which is high fats and very few carbs. I lost 50 pounds last year and all my pain went away. Got back on sugar and I had pain again. Got back off sugar pain gone. Simply put when I cut carbs I loose weight, eat as much as I need, and my pain deminishes. Sugar is posion and I may eat sugar occasionally but I hate what it does to me. Oh yes I am 254 now and plan to loose another 50 lbs this year.

    • THANK YOU SHARMA. YOUR COMMENTS REALLY HELPED ME. I had a sugar binge this morning and my joints are now killing me and I feel our of it. I have tried for years, and then go back on sugar and back and forth. hearing others experience helps reinforce the reality.
      The thing is, some people seem to be fine with sugar. just like I am fine with dairy. It seems that there are certain body types, and the truth is I am the type that can’t handle sugar. I cant handle alcohol either, but that is another story.

  6. Avatar Anise Leinen says

    Substituting “natural” sweeteners is no improvement. Noncaloric sweeteners are no better either. It all just keeps you addicted to the taste and constantly expecting everything to taste sweet. The only way to do this is to immediately, 100%, without exception, get rid of EVERY added sweetener– yes, including stevia and whatever other “natural” noncaloric sweetener is in fashion this month. Get rid of them all. Never eat or drink them again. Never means never. Not at Christmas, not on Thanksgiving, not on your birthday, not because the cake happens to be there– they all have to be 100% gone forever. If you’re adding a substance to a food or drink because it makes that food or drink taste sweeter, it has to disappear. This isn’t a popular point of view, which means that almost nobody does it. But it’s what you have to do– “reducing” sugar and any other sweetener accomplishes very little in the long run. Why do you think that over 96% of all diets fail within a few years??

  7. Thank you Angie for a very well articulated article on the effects of sugar. Are there any studies that indicate the typical lag time between sugar ingestion and pain? The way sugar affects my body is joint pain – mostly knees, hips, shoulders and wrists. I have started keeping a food journal whenever the pain surfaces, and for me it is typically a three day lag time between sugar ingestion and pain. The pain lasts for a few hours (usually less than 24) and I feel miserable, then it passes. I only eat sugar and refined carbs on special celebrations so it’s fairly easy to pinpoint with a food journal. I agree with Anise Leinen’s comments but I haven’t had enough pain yet to be 100% off sugar. But I’m working on it – the sugar(refined carb)/pain connection is absolutely true for me!

  8. thanks for the important info. Angie. For the record, Greg is a total moron and likely another PC commie/lib. I am a 71 y.o. Polish white male with red hair(still some) and blue eyes. My great-great-grandparents were “SLAVES” in Poland many years ago. many non-black people have been and some still are slaves in the litteral sense. this was just used to describe how severe the sugar addiction really is and had nothing to do with race!

  9. I have had a sore/burning thumb on and off for years and ultrasounds and numerous blood and uric acid level tests have revealed no notable issues. I have now come to realise that when i have a chocolate binge, the next half a day to day my thumb starts really hurting. This is what prompted me to search google for high sugar and inflammation which brought me to this page.

    I am really convinced this is the case and will test and fuether refine my diet. At the end of day, eating less sugary treats is a good thing. Thanks for the page

  10. Great article that helped me understand the relationship between excess sugar consumption and joint pain. I have been used to eating massive amounts of sugar every day of my life. I gave up sugar just 4 days ago and already feeling the benefits of freer joints and better complexion.

  11. I recently had a horrid and extreme pain due to sugar intake and carbs. It was almost as bad as natural child birth. I ate some potato chips, rice pudding, way too many carbs and candy. I was in Extreme Pain at night, and could not walk the next day. I really don’t eat that much sugar, or at least I didn’t think I did…I ended up taking nsaids to reduce the inflammation and drank a lot of water to get the sugar out of my system. Three days later I’m still in pain, only taking meds as needed…still have joint pain, and difficulty walking and getting up and down from sitting position.
    …thank you for this article.

  12. I eliminated all sugars (including fruit – for now) 2 weeks ago and I still have significant joint pain. I am only eating small amounts of meat (mostly chicken & fish) and lots of veggies. I consume healthy fats as well: coconut oil, avocados, nuts & seeds & grass-fed butter. I drink over 1/2 a gallon of lemon water a day. Yet, I am still in so much pain. I can barely walk for more than 15 minutes at a time before my hips & ankles hurt too much to continue.
    Is this normal? When should I begin feeling any improvement? I was hoping to have some relief by this point.

    • I think you should go see a doctor. I have hip, calf, ankle and basically joint pains but I noticed that when I eat sugar I can literally feel it flowing through my bloodstream or body and all my joints start tingling. I am working on eliminating sugar from my diet and think the writer may be on to something regarding the effects of sugar. But yours seems to be quite severe and may be in need of medical attention. Pls have it checked.

  13. I have been searching for information connecting sugar to joint pain. I did not know that sugar had an effect on the joints. Interesting article. Thanks.

  14. Bizarre world when we must seek such basic truths about ourselves and what makes us thrive…

    Thank you much for working hard to spread basic human information. Blessings.

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