There is a massive “love affair”, sweeping our country! I believe the harlot’s name is called “sugar.”
Once you’ve tasted her, it only makes ya want more. Yet for years, the concept of sugar addiction was dismissed by most scientists and doctors. Research, however, is forcing this concept to be reconsidered.
Experts used to explain “sugar cravings” as the result of spikes & crashes in blood sugar levels. Now of course this contributes, hence sugar and refined carbohydrates, which are easily reduced to sugar, are calorie dense and are rapidly absorbed by the body. These foods 1st elevate the blood sugar levels, but are processed fast, leaving you feel unsatisfied and still hungry for more sugar. This hunger is NOT driven by a need for caloric energy, but by a need for a stable blood glucose level. Foods that are high in protein and fiber have a slower absorption rate and keep one satisfied longer. All carbohydrates do eventually convert into sugar once inside the body, but more complex carbs do so at a much slower rate than simple carbs.
The word “addiction” has many connotations. People laugh about all sorts of vices they consider themselves to be addicted too: sex, coffee, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, internet, video games, shopping….. Yet, there truly is no definitive test for addiction. You cannot go to your doctor and have him swab your throat and come back and tell you that, yes, you have tested positive for addiction. Mental health professionals usually diagnose addiction, and the definition is somewhat subjective. A person’s quality of life, rather than their biochemical state is assessed. Most agree, however, that a loss of control, along with the presence of tolerance and withdrawal, are the most notable features of addiction.
The”Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV”, the manual used by professionals to formally diagnose mental disorders, lists the criteria for diagnosis of addiction as meeting three or more of these factors:
- tolerance; the need for increased amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effect, or a diminished effect when the same amount is consumed.
- withdrawal symptoms when the substance is not taken
- a greater use of the substance than intended
- unsuccessful efforts to control the use of the substance
- a great deal of time spent using the substance or recovering from use
- a reduction of social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the substance
- continued use of the substance despite knowing that it causes social and physical problems.
When you base the above criteria alone, there is no doubts that sugar, as well as any other substance or action, can be considered addictive. But can a person be addicted to sugar in the same fashion that someone can be addicted to drugs or alcohol? For some, sugar does seem to have tangible effects in the brain, leaving them in a neurochemical state similar to drug addiction. Although sugar does not exactly mimic the brain activity of addictive drugs, alcohol or nicotine, some similarities have been discovered. If you’ve ever known someone who was recovering from alcoholism or drug additions, most of those folks are reaching for “chocolate, coffee, even cigarettes.” Why might that be? Well the endogenous opioid system is the brains mechanism for controlling pain. Normally, pain is adaptive, letting us know that a part of our body needs attention & rest. Persistent or excruciating pain, however, is maladaptive. To manage pain, the body produces brain chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins, also called opioids, work by binding to special receptors on our brain cells, called opioid receptors, and blocking a complex cascade of reactions, leading to the perception of pain. So when you hurt your back, and the doctor prescribes pain medicine, that medicine is blocking the brains pain receptor signal so you can’t quite “FEEL” the pain.
Research has suggested that SUGAR has a similar effect on the endogenous opioid system. Of course “rats” were used for the study, but the study was to determine if excessive sugar intake could lead to tolerance and withdrawal, so the rats were placed on a cycle of bingeing on a glucose solution in addition to eating regular rat food. After 8 days, the rats had increased their intake of glucose solution from 30mL to 79mL per day, and were eating more food. At this point some of the rats were administered a drug called Naloxone which is used on folks who have overdosed on an opiate, because it blocks the opiate molecules from binding to the opioid receptors, and, by the same blocking, can induce withdrawal symptoms in an addict. So they precipitated a withdrawal in some rats and the others were taken off the glucose solution and given saline injections. Both rats experienced similar withdrawal symptoms. If sugar did not have an opiate like effect on the brain, the naloxone group would not have displayed withdrawal symptoms. In addition, further analysis of the rats brains found that the naloxone group had decreased levels of brain chemical dopamine and increased levels of the brain chemical acetylcholine. This dopamine/acetylcholine imbalance is characteristic of morphine and nicotine withdrawal.
This same study determined that both sugar and morphine had a similar effect on dopamine levels in the brain, first increasing the amount of dopamine and then causing the dopamine to be down regulated, so that the absence of sugar and/or morphine left the rats lacking adequate dopamine. Dopamine imbalances are found in schizophrenic and cocaine abusers. Now with this being said; not everyone who consumes sugar will have an addictive effect because not everyone experiences the same neurochemical effect, just like not everyone who drinks alcohol will become an alcoholic.
Biologist Sarah Tanksley believes that a “lack of serotonin is a factor in many mental disorders, including clinical depression. Sugar and other refined carbs increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin plays a key role in the pathway of pain management by inducing their release of opioids. It would seem reasonable to conclude that a person with depression may resort to bingeing on sweet foods to increase serotonin, release opioids and feel the addiction process.”
Sarah went on to say: ” Perhaps a better understanding of the effects of sugar on our brains can lead to treatments for eating disorders such as binge eating and bulimia. Many therapists treat eating disorders as addictions, and the endogenous opioid system may be the mechanism at work. The binge eater will consume hugs amounts of food in a short amount of time, seemingly without limits. A bulimic will eat large amounts of typically sugary, starchy foods, and once the desired opiate like effect is obtained, will purge the food to avoid weight gain. Since bingeing on sweets, prolonged starvation and vigorous exercise all activate the endogenous opioid system, it is easy to see how a person could become stuck in an addictive cycle of starving, bingeing, and purging, through vomiting and/or exercise.”
These findings also make sense when you consider smokers who will gain weight after they quit smoking, and heroin addicts who suffer a loss of appetite when using the drug, then crave sugary candy during detoxification from the drug. Eating disorders, bulimia in particular, have a high co-morbidity with alcoholism and other drug additions, according to Sarah Tanksley Biologist.
What makes it difficult to refrain from sugar is the fact that it is so readily available. You don’t have to go to a bar or a special store to buy candy like you do other addictive elements. It’s NOT illegal either. In fact, eating sugar is often encouraged, we give candy as gifts, as rewards and treats to our children, sugary treats are elevated as gifts of acknowledgement and as expressions of love and kindness. Heart shaped boxes filled with chocolates are given for Valentines Days, Christmas, Easter etc.
There is a whole host of physical issues that also accompany a sugar addiction:
immune system weakness
insulin imbalances (hypoglycemia & diabetes)
Cancer: ( sugar creates a very acidic pH internal environment which is like fertilizer to cancer cells)
I get clients who when I’m working nutritionally with them and their children, I cannot tell you how many mothers “ask”, when can they have sugar again? We get emotionally attached to what we offer through our foods, meaning, cooking a nice meal for someone has become a way of exhibiting “love” for another, especially when its their “favorite.”
Folks, food and eating is meant to FEED and NOURISH the body, there are other ways to show your love for someone. Don’t make food a reward, it is a basic need. One example that drives that point home to me is how many have ever watched any of those shows where folks are dropped off in the middle of no where to survive.. like ” Naked and afraid”, the people participating in those do or die situations, when they run across something that can be eaten, they are not elaborating in their minds about how it LOOKS, what kind of plate its served on, what side dish will they serve with it. The truth is they are hungry! When you can change and adapt your mental connection as to what role food is meant to play, I believe you can begin the healing process of being able to abstain from all the overly processed foods that create these addictive cycles that are destroying our health, and especially the health of our children.
The amount of sugars and carbohydrate overload that our youth are consuming on a daily basis is and should be totally SHOCKING! Yet those foods (which I hate even categorizing them as), are easy to serve, they are quick convenient. Although, grabbing an apple is quick and convenient, how about a handful of grapes, or strawberries, a banana, are NOT all of those quick and convenient too?
I believe there is a PRICE to pay for the simplicity of quick and convenient. We are developing a generation of over-weight, underactive people who struggle to stay emotionally balanced, cannot cope with even simple stressors, even technology is jumping on board to fill in the anti-social gap, even though we refer to it as “social media”, “text messaging”, and all the other communication “apps”, sure we are able to connect with people all across the globe now, but think about something, those connections are emotionally unattached, and impersonal. Try calling a teen-ager or young adult on their phone today and most will let it go to voice mail. But text message them and it’s answered within seconds, look at groups of people in social gatherings and how many are physically making eye contact with the folks they are with? Most have their heads down buried in their cell phones. Lack of serotonin production, dopamine levels that are off, all the neurotransmitters that allow us to FEEL our emotional connections are off and just spend some time people watching and tell me I’m wrong.
We need to also realize we have been conditioned over the years by commercials/advertising. Ever notice that all the junk foods tend to cost “less” than wholesome fresh foods? Well that is because those junk foods can grace the store shelves for 3+ years, I don’t think an apple/orange or banana would pass that test. But you are wasting your money on those junk food items because they offer the body ZERO in the nutritional elements, so you are eating empty food items. So why waste your money?
So for any of my readers who may still be wondering: “Is my body addicted to sugar?” if you find yourself asking the very question, your answer probably needs to gravitate to a yes!!! Is there a way to navigate yourself away from that addiction? Yes there is, but it will be a process, the body needs to be built up nutritionally for balance.
Jodi Barnett N.D.
Harvested Health LLC
Wellbeing journal Vol,. 14, NO.2
Sarah Tanksley, Biologist.