It’s no secret that eating too much sugar impacts health negatively in several ways. For starters, sugar can make one fat, and excess sugar in the blood over a period of time can cause insulin resistance, which may lead to diabetes in many people. Sugar is bad for the teeth, and although it is high in calories, it provides no nutritional benefit. It is also know that sugar triggers inflammatory processes in the body, which upsets the intestinal balance of healthy bacteria, contributes to arterial inflammation and ultimately, arteriosclerosis. Inflammation in the body is also known to be a fertile ground for cancer cell growth.
The above contains old and more recent scientific insight, but what many people don’t realize is that sugar is also addictive. In fact, sugar affects the brain in much the same way as alcohol and drugs.
Eating small amounts of sugar presents no problem for most people, but the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that no more than five percent of the diet should come from sugar. Most Americans and Europeans eat nearly three times that amount, and some eat much more.
How does sugar affect the brain? A single bite of the sweet stuff hits receptors on the tongue and sends a chemical and electrical signal that activates the reward area of the brain – the same area responsible for the pleasurable feelings result from sex, or from using alcohol, cocaine or other drugs. Like drugs and alcohol, activating this area of the brain can result in cravings and loss of control, although to a somewhat lesser degree.
The primary chemical involved in this complex biological process is dopamine. Although all foods release dopamine to the brain, sugar releases a tremendous amount, considerably higher than fruits, vegetables, grains and other foods found in nature.
In one experiment conducted by Princeton University, researchers deprived rats of food for 12 hours per day. For the next 12 hours, the rats had access to two foods — regular rat “chow,” and a sugary solution. The rats showed a distinct preference for the sweet food and soon began to display signs of depression and extreme stress during the 12 hours that the sugary food wasn’t available – symptoms that closely resemble withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.
Sugar is a general term that includes not only sucrose (common table sugar), but also glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, maltose and many others. The body doesn’t know the difference between processed sugar and natural sugar, and forms of sugar such as honey, raw sugar and corn syrup have the same addictive effect on the brain. Avoiding sugar is more difficult than many people think, and we often ingest sugar without realizing it because sugar is found in obvious foods like candy, soft drinks and fruit, but also in foods that you may not expect such as ketchup, bread, cereal, salad dressing, sausage and some types of yogurt.
A healthy diet is critical during addiction treatment and recovery, but cravings for sugar are typical for recovering addicts, who may inadvertently trade one addiction for another. Eating too much sugar can alter mood and trigger cravings for drugs and alcohol. Too much sugar can also fill you up and diminish the appetite for healthy, nutritious foods that can restore energy and allover health.
Orthomolecular medicine can restore the balance of trace minerals and Vitamins which helps to curb the cravings for sugar, a balanced diet, exercise and most importantly, learning about nutrition is crucial as is psychotherapy, which helps to “come off” the sugar as much as of other drugs or alcohol.