Likening a sugar addiction to a drug habit might seem like an overreaction on the surface, but it might not be exaggerated. Surely, at some point in time, you might have found yourself really craving a chocolate bar, a slice of cake or a can of a soda pop, even when you’re not hungry. This is what’s referred to as a sugar craving and almost all of us have experienced this before. But have you ever stopped to think that these cravings might be symptomatic of a sugar addiction?

If you habitually consume products, whether it’s food or beverages, with large quantities of added sugar from day to day at consistent times, you might experience an underlying sensation to continue doing so. Why is that? When we eat sugar, it releases opioids and dopamine in the body; therefore, our brain’s receptors respond to the substance not unlike the way the do to habit forming, recreational drugs. Our brain associates the intake of sugar as a reward, and it wants to keep receiving that reward, subsequently creating an addiction to foods with higher concentrations of sugar. It changes the chemistry of our brains, altering neuropathways, resulting in the aforementioned cravings, overindulging, and withdrawal symptoms ranging from irritability, fatigue and headaches. You can also become overly sensitive to sugar due to cross-sensitization, amplifying the body’s response to the stimulus. It can be used as a gateway to other destructive behaviors and addictions.

Many researches, internationally mind you, agree that comparing the addictive properties of sugar to illicit drugs is not much of a hyperbole. Regardless of the fundamental difficulty of distinguishing a subject’s different types of rewards from their psychological experiences, scientific research supports that the rewards reaped from sugar can actually replace those we get from drugs. That doesn’t mean that the response our body gets from sugar is as severe or as potent as that of an addictive stimulant, like cocaine, but, rather, our bodies find the rewards we get from the former more desirable. Meaning, the buzz we receive from sugar stands to be more attractive than the high we get from cocaine.

 

How do We Know This?
About ten years ago, a comprehensive study was conducted by Professor Bart Hoebel, along with his team in the Department of Psychology, at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute using lab rats to study the effects it has on the brain. Prior to the experiment, the rats received consistent dosages of sugar until they had become dependent on the substance, and then would be denied it for long periods of time. When they were reintroduced to sugar, they ate it in higher volumes than from before, showing a drastic spike in sugar addiction.

What Were the Results?

  • Bingeing: When the sugar was eventually reintroduced to the rats, they self-administered at higher volumes. This might be due to a combination of one or two things: 1.) cross- sensitization could result in a much more enhanced reaction than before, so their bodies want to ride that feeling, or 2.) the tolerance they’ve worked up towards a substance requires them to ingest more to solicit the delightful feeling you derived from it before. According to Dr. Hoebel, “Limited periods of access, to create ‘binges’, have been useful, because the pattern of self-administration behavior that emerges is similar to that of a ‘compulsive’ drug user. Even when drugs, such as cocaine, are given with unlimited access, humans or laboratory animals will self-administer them in repetitive episodes or ‘binges.’”
  • Cravings: Of course, with the abstinence from something your body receives regularly, we experience a strong desire to be reunited with the substance in question. In this case, with the rats, in their attempts to be rewarded the sucrose solution they so desperately desired, they resorted to trying to respond more to cues that could in anyway be associated with receiving sugar. Their behavior was very similar in a way to what drug abusers go through during a relapse period.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: During the period of sugar withdrawal, the rats were prone to bouts of aggression, depression, anxiety and a decrease in body temperature. The funny thing is, not funny “ha-ha,” these are the same exact symptoms rats suffering from opioid withdrawals. Not even joking. Their anxiety had raised, evident by the considerably reduced time they spent on the elevated maze. Their depressive state was apparent through a sort of forced-escape test where they must either swim or float. Less and less rats attempted to escape, and more and more rats passively floated instead. Hoebel adds “Spontaneous withdrawal from the mere remove of sugar has been reported using decreased body temperature as the criterion. Also, signs of aggressive behavior have been found during withdrawal of a diet that involves intermittent sugar access.”
  • Gateway Effect: Due to cross-sensitization, people tend to be drawn to other substances and drugs. During the withdrawal period, the rats consumed more alcohol than from before they were derived of their precious sugar, illustrating the changes to their brain function, very similar to us in identical conditions.

Now that we’re a little more aware of how addictive sugar can be, lets take into consideration what’s the #1 cause of death in the US. If you guessed heart disease, then you are indeed correct, with more than 5 million people dying annually from it. That means that one in every four deaths is the result of heart disease. Compare that to the 72,000 that died from a drug overdose last year, 2017. How does sugar addiction tie into this? Well, just in case you forgot….

Sugar is Devastatingly Harmful to your Health!
Again, it’s as addictive as, if not more than, drugs like cocaine and heroin. Sugar addiction can also affect your mental well-being just as much as your physical well-being; it has been linked to certain cancers; and the list goes on… and on… and on.

According to a study conducted by researchers over five years ago at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the molecule of sugar has a particularly grim effect on heart health. Their findings, which was published in the May 21 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association, states that sugar not only puts stress on your heart, but it can also lead to heart failure.

Sugar’s Effect on Your Heart
According to their research, the molecule, glucose 6-phosphate (G6P), “causes stress to the heart that changes the muscle proteins and induces poor pump function leading to heart failure.” G6P can accumulate in your body when you consume too much sugar and/or starch.

Lead researcher, Heinrich Taegtmeyer, a doctor and professor at the University, added “When the heart muscle is already stressed from high blood pressure or other diseases, and then takes in too much glucose, it adds insult to injury.”
With our processed-foods, it’s no wonder the statistics on heart disease are so incredibly staggering… with 5 million Americans dying from heart failure and 550,000 new patients diagnosed with heart failure each year in the U.S.

What’s worse? With the numbers rising every year, Taegtmeyer claims there have been little-to-no significant medical advances in the treatment of heart disease. So that, of course, leaves prevention. Unfortunately, with instances of obesity through the roof, especially in the younger generation – methods of prevention are anything but in place.

You Think Glucose is Bad? Try Fructose.
Sugars are not all created equally. Take fructose, for example. Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, has been researching the differences in sugar metabolism for years. What he’s found regarding fructose is quite shocking:

 

  • Fructose is metabolized by your liver to FAT far more rapidly than any other sugar.
  • Fructose promotes the development of visceral fat, which is the dangerous “deep” fat that wraps around your inner organs and can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even dementia.
  • Unlike glucose and other sugars with which your liver only has to break down a portion (approximately 20 percent), the entire burden of breaking down fructose falls on your liver.  This spurs the production of toxins and wastes, including the health-damaging uric acid.
  • Whereas your body utilizes glucose for energy and very quickly burns it up, fructose lingers and turns into free fatty acids, bad cholesterol and triglycerides, which get stored as fat.
  • The metabolism of fructose can lead to fatty liver disease and  insulin resistance, which of course is a precursor to diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
  • 120 calories of glucose results in less than one (1) calorie being stored as fat; 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat.
  • Unlike glucose, fructose has no part in helping to regulate ghrelin (your “hunger hormone”) and leptin, which suppresses your appetite.  In fact, Lustig claims that fructose may actually trigger changes in your brain that lead to overeating and weight gain.

A Sugar Calorie is Not Just a Calorie
Think of what you’ve been told for years: “a calorie is a calorie.” That’s simply not true. As Lustig points out, you can ingest the “same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count.” This is misunderstood, quite often.
Essentially, if you’re consuming foods that contain fructose, you’re programming your body to “create and store fat.”

How Much is Dangerous?
Many experts recommend keeping your fructose intake to 25 grams or less per day, with 15 grams or less being ideal. That’s no easy feat considering fructose is in SO many of the foods you eat and beverages you drink. Not to mention “foods” you don’t think much about, such as ketchup. If you’re a soda drinker, you’re in big trouble when it comes to fructose. One 12-ounce can of soda has 40 grams of sugar, half of which are fructose.

Be a Smart Shopper, a Smart Eater By paying close attention to how much sugar you and your family are ingesting daily, you can make significant changes in your family’s health, not only from a weight perspective, but from a full-body perspective as well.

However For those looking to break their sugar addiction completely, know this first off: Don’t quit cold turkey! It’s over-dramatic and it will likely incite a binge, so you might want to approach this a little more gradually. That kind of drastic change can incite stress, which can, in turn, inhibit immune functions and cause our blood sugar levels to raise. And considering that’s the very thing we’re trying to avoid, it seems very counter intuitive. The trick is to slowly retrain your taste buds to enjoy other things that aren’t as sweet.

What Else Can You Do?

  • Eat foods with higher concentrations of healthy fats, like fruits, vegetables and organic proteins to fight of symptoms of fatigue.
  • Keep yourself hydrated and have a glass of water to stave off sugar addiction.
  • Instead of turning to sugar as a stress reducer, why not just try to get a good night’s rest instead? Sometimes our sugar cravings might be correlated to a lack of sleep.
  • Exercise when you feel like you have no energy. No, really! Take a hike, or go for a walk, as being more active increases your endorphins.
  • Start your day off with a well-balanced, nutritional breakfast to prevent the likelihood of sugar cravings throughout the day.
  • It might make your mornings more difficult, but you might want to consider cutting the coffee out. Or, at the very least, try and reduce it to one cup a day.
  • Try to add spices like cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg to your food to reduce cravings while adding natural sweetness to your food.
  • As stated earlier, sugar is present in so many of the foods and drinks we consume on a day-to-day basis, so we must be aware of the many names that it goes by: sucrose, dextrose, lactose, ethyl maltol, maltose, treacle, muscovado, agave nectar, blackstrap molasses, galactose and much, much more. Know the enemy! These guys can hide in anything, so start reading the nutritional labels if you aren’t already.
  • If you got a monkey on your back screaming for something sweet, try and at least time your sugar intake at an appropriate time in the day. For example, maybe wait 20 minutes to a half hour after extraneous activity or workout, as our bodies are much more efficient at digesting it afterwards.
  • Take vitamin D3 and omega 3 fatty acids, or 1000 to 2000 mg of L-Glutamine
  • Be wary of artificial sweeteners, as, depending on the frequency in which they’re used, can cause sugar cravings to worsen, which defeats the whole purpose of a sugar substitute in the first place.
  • If it’s far too difficult to distance yourself from unhealthy, sugary foods, why not combine them with healthy foods? Chocolate strawberries anybody
  • Need to take your mind of your cravings? Chewing gum has been known to help reduce stress, focus your mind, and help diminish cravings.
  • Don’t wait too long to eat in between meals. If you wait to long, and miss appropriate meal times, may set you up for failure, opting to choose something more accessible and worse for you.
  • We tend to eat our feelings in times of stress and sadness, but that doesn’t treat the cause, nor the symptoms. Reach out to others for emotional support.
  • It’s okay to reward yourself here and there but remember to really limit yourself to how much that is. You could very easily fall into a relapse of your sugar addiction. Then your reward becomes your life, again.
  • Find a quiet spot to sit and focus on your breathing.

It’s not going to be an easy road to kick sugar addiction, but most things working towards never are. And the health benefits that come with it do not exclude a considerably reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, liver disease, fatigue, mental disorders and impotence. And with all that in mind, is reducing your intake to less than 15 mg a day really that bad?

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