Hooked on Sugar
By Sharon Bachman
One cannot simply assume that everyone has an infinite desire for sweetness, any more than one can assume the same about a desire for comfort or wealth or power.
Processed sugar, the deliciously sweet substance we all love and crave, comes in many forms and has many names. However, the sad truth about sugar is, it tricks our minds and deceives our bodies. Sounds almost like anti-drug propaganda doesn’t it? Who hasn’t heard of drug addiction, sex and gambling addiction? Many of us have never heard of sugar addiction. Sugar is just as addictive as cocaine and heroin, but it is legal, socially acceptable, and is found in almost every pre-made food on the market today (Defigio, 2013). Sugar triggers the same pleasure centers in the brain as illegal drugs do. Sugar triggers the production of serotonin and dopamine which are hormones that make you feel happy and satisfied. So in reality, the more you have, the more you want and need.
Sugar goes by a lot of different names, and is trickily tucked away in almost all processed foods, at least 80% of them, and makes avoiding it particularly tricky. Not everything that contains sugar uses that specific word in the list of ingredients, so here’s a reference list of some alternative names for sugar that you may not recognize. However, all sugars are not created equal, they are still essentially sugar.
||Fruit juice concentrate
|Brown rice solids
||Grape juice concentrate
|Cane juice crystals
||High-fructose corn syrup
|Corn syrup solids
|Evaporated cane juice
The majority of the population in the USA suffers from one type of sugar problem or another. High blood sugar or low blood sugar, present symptoms many in medical field are confused about. Low blood sugar is inadvertently caused by High blood sugar which spikes and then rapidly drops. Very few physicians today are able to diagnose and treat the enormous decline in health due to too much sugar, artificial flavors and sweeteners, and other dangerous chemicals lurking in our food (Ellison, 2017)
Processed sugar is one of the major causes of depression, ADHD, migraines, epilepsy, concentration problems, stress, anxiety disorder, brain disorders, insomnia, inflammation of all types in our bodies, not to mention obesity and diabetes and the problems associated with them. All types of sugars are inherently inflammatory, and cause our blood sugar level to rise rapidly which in turn causes our insulin levels to spike causing our bodies problems (Abascal, 2011).
Processed sugar depletes magnesium from our liver. We need more, not less magnesium in our body to help combat the inflammation caused by a diet high in sugar (Abascal, 2011).
What Happens in Our Brain When We Eat Sugar and Flour
Flour and sugar have broken our brains. Yikes! That is exactly what has happened. It has created insatiable hunger! Insatiable hunger is considered a new kind of hunger. It isn’t the kind that says, “I need good healthy food to power me through the day”; It says, “My stomach is full, now I want a pint of ice cream and a bag of chips, Oh, and that last piece of chocolate cake”. Insatiable says it all (Thompson, 2017).
we can eat a donut and a latte and have enough fuel for the entire day, and our stomachs are only half full. Nothing tells our brain we have consumed enough calories so we crave more. Volume of food and calorie consumption are no longer correlated the way they once were.
The tiny little hypothalamus, an almond size command center in our brain, is our internal regulator. It secretes hormones and stimulates the pituitary gland, controls hunger and body temperature, parenting attachment, sex drive thirst, fatigue, sleep and circadian rhythms. It is located just above it’s helper, the brain stem. One very important hormone which affects the hypothalamus is called leptin. Leptin signals the brain to stop eating and get moving. Leptin is produced in the fat cells and swims in our blood stream to our brain and tells our hypothalamus we are full and to get moving. Scientists are finding we are becoming leptin resistant as a society (Greer, Goldstein, & Walker, 2013). Why? Do you ask, are we becoming leptin resistant? This is the holy grail of obesity research (Thompson, 2017). Insulin is the culprit. Insulin is blocking leptin in the brain (DeSteno, et. al. 2014).
Insulin. We all know something about it, or at least we have heard of it. Doesn’t it only have to do with diabetics and sugar? Here’s how the story goes. Our bodies rely on blood sugar for energy on a cellular level. Not the white processed sugar we all know and crave today, but the glucose our bodies produce from healthy food. However, blood sugar can’t go directly into most cells. After a meal or snack, your blood-sugar level rises, the hypothalamus signals the pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream. Got that? Insulin attaches to cells and tells them to open up wide and absorb the blood sugar, which is why it is often called the “key” hormone. It is responsible for opening the doors of the cells to let the blood sugar in. Insulin can also tell your body to use the blood sugar now, or store it for use in the future. Insulin keeps the blood sugar levels from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Modern diets have caused insulin levels to elevate far beyond where they are supposed to be. Obesity is tied to excess insulin levels, but until the team at UCSF discovered the link between insulin and leptin, it wasn’t understood how too much insulin is harming our bodies and our brains. But, now we know! Insulin is blocking Leptin. Insulin is using the brain stem to block leptin so it never reaches the hypothalamus (Grill, et.al. 2002). Our brain never gets the leptin cue telling it that it is full and to stop eating. So there we sit in our easy chain starving, feeling sluggish, and to eat, eat, eat. What are we starving for? The exact foods that elevated our insulin levels to begin with. And, because we have forgotten what it feels like to be truly hungry, we graze all day, keeping insulin levels high, which in turn blocks leptin at the brain stem. A vicious cycle, we keep going and going and going. This is the beginning of addiction.
This vicious cycle also causes overpowering cravings. Overpowering cravings may seem the same as insatiable hunger, but they are not the same thing. They arise from different brain mechanisms. Insatiable hunger, comes from blocked leptin. Overpowering cravings come from a bingeing mechanism in the brain. These cravings are what makes people get up in the middle of the night and drive miles to find that one food to satisfy their urge. It is like trying to scratch an itch you can’t reach. You never really find what satisfies you. You may eat a mountain of food trying to find that one food to scratch that itch. That unbearable itch starts in the nucleus accumbens in the brain which is the seat of pleasure, reward, and motivation. Inside its outer shell is a cluster of nerons that are activated by dopamine (a feel good hormone) and designed to motivate our behavior which is why many activities stimulate the brain to release dopamine. Some of the triggers are sex, exercise, and you guessed it EATING! Two life sustaining activities, eating and sex, can cause our brain to say “I’m going to get me some of that”. Historically, we didn’t have the available stimuli for either to become a problem. Maybe we got a glimpse of a native bathing in the river, now sexually explicit stimulus is everywhere. And, food commercials are available 24/7. Our brains are constantly stimulated and release huge amounts of dopamine. Our bodies recognize this is a massive overload and begins the process of “pruning” or “downregulation” in which the brain thins out dopamine receptors to adapt to the huge overload. Ok, we have really done it now. We have changed the psychology or workings of the brain. We broke it! When we don’t get enough stimulus (in our case high calorie and sugary food) we aren’t getting the dopamine we need to feel up. We don’t feel good and we crave MORE! We just can’t get enough now that downregulation has happened. This is the cycle of addiction. The good news is, over time and healthy food and lots of water, our brains CAN and DO regenerate and repair. Withdrawals are horrible, but very much worth it.
The following photo taken from Bright Line Eating, by Dr. Susan Thompson shows the similarities of the processes forms of sugar, flour, heroin, and cocaine. None of these substances in their raw and unprocessed forms are addictive. Cocoa leaves, poppies, sugar cane, and whole grain doesn’t raise havoc with our brains, but once processes they are all highly addictive, and I said ALL:
I realize this part was rather long, but necessary in understanding how food addiction affects us and our brains.
Scientists have noticed this urge is different from hunger in two ways. The first strange thing is that it’s accompanied by the urge to be sedentary. What is so odd is that from an evolutionary stand point, eating food was a trigger for us to get moving. What happened? The second thing is that actual eating doesn’t satisfy us. We get hungrier the more we eat. This is the result of a broken feedback mechanism. We have a mechanism in our brain called compensation and it is supposed to govern how we regulate our calorie intake. Historically we ate low calorie, high nutrient based food. Our stomach lining had a sensor telling our brain how full we are by how stretched our stomach was so our brain knew at any given moment how much fuel we had on board. But now
Dr. Perlmutter gives many lectures to the medical community and uses the example of how different foods cause insulin spikes. His examples include, a piece of whole-wheat toast, a snickers bar, a tablespoon of table sugar, and a banana, and then asks which food causes the fastest and highest insulin spike. Most get it wrong. It is the whole wheat toast! It raises the glycemic index (GI) to a whopping 71 out of 100. Sugar raises the GI to 68, the Snickers bar raised the GI to 55 and the banana raised it to 54.
Many sugar addicts, yes, I said addicts, have a weakened immune system. By consuming sugary soda and energy drinks, our bodies vital nutrients are depleted by means of dehydration. Without the proper nutrients, our body’s defense systems become compromised. The sugar from one can of soda or energy drink can immediately decrease the immune functions by one-third for three to four hours following consumption (Teitelbaum, 2010).
Addiction is defined as a habit one must have to avoid a negative feeling, symptom, or compulsion to artificially produce a pleasurable sensation. Just like with drugs or other addictive substances, the over use of sugar causes a tolerance to its effects and we need more and more to get the same rewards (DeFigio, 2013).
Yeast infections are another of the hazards of a high sugar diet. Yeast feeds on sugar and flourishes in an acidic environment. High sugar intake offers both these things for rapidly growing yeast. Because yeast needs sugar to grow, it triggers sugar cravings. Over infestation of yeast can occur after a round of antibiotics has killed off naturally occurring bacteria in our intestines. After a round of antibiotics, follow up with probiotics or lactobacillus to help combat both yeast and sugar cravings (Defigio, 2013).
According to Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, in his book, Beat Sugar Addiction Now! (2010), there are generally four types of sugar addicts:
- Type 1 (The energy seeker)
- Type 2 (The feed me now or I’ll kill you addict)
- Type 3 (The sugar craver, usually caused by yeast/candida overgrowth)
- Type 4 (Depressed, PMS, menopause, or andropause)
Type 1 Sugar Addict
The type 1 sugar addict usually uses sugar as a pick-me-up because they are exhausted. They usually work hard and are under a lot of stress. Generally, the Type 1 sugar addict has a weakened immune system. They get everything going around. Usually they eat on the run and their meals consist of a lot of sugary snacks, white flour and white rice which is stripped of the nutrients needed for energy. They lack the vitamins they need to naturally boost energy. Insomnia is a common problem along with constipation.
Type 2 Sugar Addict
The type 2 sugar addict has exhausted his adrenal glands. Type 2 sugar addict constantly reacts to stress which activates the adrenal glands to produce the stress handling hormones cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). Sugar pumps them up until the blood sugar drops, which is known as hypoglycemia. The brain is starved for glucose (it’s food) and it feels like it is suffocating. Nervousness, anxiety, jitters, and light headedness often accompany the symptoms faced by a type 2 addict. If untreated, long term adrenal fatigue can cause fatigue, fibromyalgia, immune dysfunction, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and obesity. Many type 2 addicts have hypo-thyroidism. Dr. Teitlebaum suggests in order to break a type 2 sugar addiction and treat adrenal fatigue, changing your diet is key. Also, taking small doses of bio-identical cortisol, vitamin C, high doses of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), licorice, and chromium. Also, learning to deal with stress better helps survive type 2 sugar addiction.
Type 3 Sugar Addict
The Type 3 sugar addict needs sugar fixes regularly. All day long the type 3 addict snacks on cookies, donuts, pastries, and starchy carbs to feed the yeast growing in his digestive system. We aren’t talking the kind of yeast used in making bread, we are talking Candida albicans. Yeast causes severe sugar cravings because it requires sugar to survive. The type 3 addict is usually tired, often complains of sinus trouble, postnasal drip, digestive problems, gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation and has very poor eating habits. Yeast releases a certain chemical, causing us to crave sugar, thus getting what it wants, more sugar. Yeast overgrowth causes food allergies. Many of the allergies are wheat, milk, chocolate, citrus and eggs. Excessive use of antibiotics and steroids exacerbate yeast overgrowth.
Type 4 Sugar Addict
The type 4 sugar addict’s sugar cravings are usually brought on by depression, or hormonal imbalances. Hormones play a huge part of emotional and physical well-being. Hormones a crucial to our body’s communication and control system. When hormone levels are low or out of balance, we can become sad and depressed. We crave sugar to try and boost our serotonin levels to make us feel happy. Also, the cravings may be due to insulin resistance. Using bio-identical hormones or natural remedies such as herbs can help you break type 4 sugar addiction. A trip to a naturopathic or homeopathic Physician can prove to be very helpful to type 4 sugar addicts.
Sugar and Brain Disease
Maintaining order rather than correcting disorder is the ultimate principle of wisdom. To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one feels thirsty, or forging weapons after the war has already begun.
Huangdi Neijing, 2nd Century BC
The inflammation cause by sugar, over time, can wreak havoc with our minds. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia has skyrocketed over the last decade. Dr. David Perlmutter, in his book, Grain Brain (2013), describes Alzheimer’s disease as type 3 diabetes. In normal bodies, cells are sensitive to insulin, the hormone which helps us utilize sugar and starch from our bloodstream, but when our cells are constantly exposed to high levels of insulin, from consuming loads of sugar and starch, they become resistant and our bodies pump more and more insulin into our system trying to utilize the sugar we have been eating. Throughout this chain of events inflammation runs rampant in our bodies and our minds, causing diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Cold Turkey or Gradual Reduction
There are two ways to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. Gradually reduce the amount of sugar you consume each day, or quit cold turkey. I am better off to quit cold turkey because any amount of sugar causes me to want more. However, if you don’t have problems with addiction, reducing the amount of sugar and processed grains in your diet gradually can be easier. Sugar Withdrawals can be brutal, and the withdrawal symptoms can take as long two to six weeks to subside.
During the Detox phase, our bodies often have a difficult time getting used to normal, stable, blood sugar levels. During this period, we go through a sense of fatigue, headaches, and a general sense of malaise (Abascal, 2011).
A few things which help get us through detox and withdrawals are eating more green vegetables and healthy fats. Keep junk food out of the house. Most of the time the cravings will subside if you wait at least 10 minutes. Get plenty of sleep to help your body heal and reduce cravings for sugar. Deep sleep regulates growth hormones leptin and ghrelin (the fountain of youth hormones) (Teitlebaum, 2010). Eat plenty of good food during the day. Stop eating fat-free, that is so 1990’s. Get plenty of Exercise. Exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity and has more health benefits than anything else we do. Learn why you have cravings and what your triggers are. Knowledge is power. Knowing your body is essential. And, most important of all is don’t give up when you relapse! Begin again!
Regardless of how clean your diet is (free of bad fats, sugar and grains), almost everyone gets cravings for sweets or junk food now and then. As you practice better eating habits and wean yourself off sugar, here are some suggestions to fight back when a sugar craving strikes:
- Drink a cold glass of water or citrus-flavored mineral water.
- Identify what triggered the craving, and don’t allow yourself to have the treat until you come up with the answer.
Is it hunger? A stressful event? An inconsiderate spouse? Thirst? Loneliness? Remember, knowledge is power.
- Make a conscious decision to eat or not eat the sweet.
Remember, you’re the boss of your behavior. No one makes you do anything. If you decide to eat some sugar, you must own it and do it on purpose. Don’t make any excuses or point any fingers!
If you decide not to eat something sweet:
- Give yourself a (healthy) personal reward!
Draw a smiley face on the calendar, put a dollar in the cookie jar, or take yourself to the movies.
- Tell someone!
Call or e-mail a friend, or write a blog post or a Facebook update.
- Choose a positive substitute activity if you want.
If you decide to eat something sweet:
- You must abide by the ten-minute rule — you have to wait ten minutes before you eat a sugary treat.
If you still want it after ten minutes, go ahead.
- Put the amount you’ll eat on a plate first — no eating from packages or serving dishes.
- Try a substitute sweet fix instead:
A square of 85% or more, dark chocolate
A small portion of a low-glycemic fruit like cherries, apples, or plums
A Tic Tac, Altoid mint, or sugarless gum
Green tea or licorice tea to help restore adrenal function
Changing your behavior is a good way to beat sweet cravings. Engaging in an enjoyable substitute activity whenever you have a sugar craving helps curb the craving and develop new habits. Try to find activities that you enjoy and that you find meaningful. Doing something good for someone else is a great way to get your mind off sugar. Here are some suggestions:
- Do a Sudoku puzzle or play chess or Scrabble on the computer — keep your brain occupied!
- Do some crunches or jumping jacks.
- Find a new charity you like and send a donation, or make the call to volunteer.
- If you have a partner, write a love note, this helps more than just your sugar craving!
- Look up a long-lost friend on Facebook and say hi.
- Look up a subject that interests you and learn something new about it.
- Make a list of movies you want to see or books you want to read.
- Make a list of things to talk about with your partner, therapist, or best friend.
- Phone a friend or family member to catch up.
- Pick something in the house that needs fixed or cleaned and attend to it.
- Play with your pet. If you don’t have a pet, go to a shelter and give some love to one of the animals there. Or, take your dog or a shelter dog for a walk, once again you will be helping more than your sugar craving.
- Ride your bike.
- Take a digital camera or your cellphone and go look for interesting or artistic pictures to take.
- Take a walk.
- Write an apology letter to someone you’ve wronged.
- Write a story, a blog, a journal, or start on that book you have always wanted to write!
- Update your bucket list or make one if you don’t have one.
- Visit someone in the hospital or in the nursing home, whether you know them or not. Many people in nursing homes are very lonely!
Our bodies regulate their own sugar requirements by converting fats, protein and amino acids into usable glucose as needed. Any disruption in this precarious ecosystem is going to shunt this innate hormonal protection. Therefore, nobody requires processed sugar, whatsoever (Ellison, 2017). I can guarantee, after you kick the sugar habit, you will feel better than you have felt in years.
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