Author: Dr. Ricardo Kotliroff
Sugar addiction, also called carbohydrate addiction, involves frequent, compulsive eating of large quantities of food that contain high levels of sugar or starches.
Carbohydrates and Metabolism
Sugars are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and dairy, as well as sweeteners (such as high fructose corn syrup) added during food refining and processing. Natural sugars include sugar cane, honey, maple syrub, agave nectar, and fructose (found in fruit). Starches include rice, potatoes, bread and pasta.
Our digestive systems change sugars and starches found in the food we eat into glucose (blood sugar). The cells in our bodies use this glucose for energy in our tissues and organs. Any leftover sugar is stored for later use in the liver and muscles as fat.
Causes of Sugar Addiction
Sugar addiction afflicts people of all ages and from all walks of life. Some people eat sweet foods when they have high levels of stress, while others reward themselves with carbohydrate-dense foods.
People who suffer from sugar addiction develop both psychological and biological dependence on sugar consumption. Biological dependence results from the way our hormones respond to high quantities of sugar. After eating a large amount of carbohydrates, the serotonin level in the brain increases, resulting in a temporary sensation of feeling good. Like other addictions including drug and alcohol, people require greater and greater inputs, in this case more and more carbohydrates, to achieve the same positive serotonin response. Psychological dependence arises when the brain considers sugar to be a reward, which increases the desire for sugar. Natural opiods are powerful players in this process. The human body synthesizes natural opiods, very potent feel-good chemicals, as a response to metabolizing excess amounts of sugars.
Additionally, physiological addiction can occur. The pancreas synthesizes the hormone Insulin in order to transport glucose from the blood into the cells, which then use it for energy. When blood glucose levels drop suddenly, people experience sugar withdrawal symptoms (which can also occur when sugar is not available) including fatigue, mild depression, and anxiety. As a result, people with sugar addiction will seek sugary foods to relieve these symptoms.
A recent animal study suggests that different neurological circuits control normal, healthy eating versus compulsive ingestion of sugars. This is because sugar induces an addiction chemical, Δfos B, in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens (abbreviated NAcc).
Furthermore, people who suffer from sugar addiction develop the phenomenon known as tolerance. This means people have fewer D2 dopamine receptors (the pleasure centers in the brain), thereby requiring higher amounts of stimulation in order to feel pleasure. Because of this the amount of sugar a person requires to feel good gradually increases over time.
Based on criteria from the American Psychiatric Association, the stages in the addiction process include bingeing, sensitization, and craving. Bingeing for a person who is addicted to sugar means eating large meals, and ingesting large amounts of sugar, typically following temporary avoidance. Sensitization means a rise in response to a repeated stimulus, eventually leading to tolerance. Craving means intense desire for sugar, especially when carbohydrates have been unavailable for a period of time.
Risk Factors for Sugar Addiction
Sugar addiction may have a genetic component. Research has demonstrated that people with mutations in the hormone, ghrelin (responsible for signaling hunger), ingested more sugar than people lacking the mutation. Thus, genetic factors affecting release of ghrelin may determine whether individuals have a tendency toward rewarding themselves through eating sugary foods.
Signs & Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of sugar addiction include cravings for sugary food, eating more sugary food than you planned, feeling wiped out and shaky when your blood sugar level drops, and having social or health problems due to food issues.
Sugar addiction is one of the most serious epidemics in the world today. It is a key contributor to recurring weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, elevated levels of triglycerides, decreased levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, migraines, deficiencies in memory and cognition, declining vision due to macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis, fatty liver disease, kidney disease, pancreatic disease, gout, arthritis, osteoporosis, decreased elasticity of tissue, suppression of the immune system, cancer (of the lung, breast, prostate, ovaries, stomach, liver, colon, gallbladder, and kidney), and depression.
One of the most common issues from sugar addiction is being overweight. Excess weight is often a symptom of insulin resistance, which can lead to elevated blood glucose and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, glucose-6-phosphate, a molecule formed by the metabolism of carbohydrates, can damage the heart muscle, resulting in the development of heart failure.
According to an article by the American Heart Association, drinking sweet beverages can cause 184,000 deaths in adults throughout the world annually.
Diagnosis by a healthcare practitioner includes evaluation of signs, symptoms, lifestyle, and diet.
Conventional treatments include:
- Diet change
- Psychological support, including counseling and pharmaceuticals
- Prescription medications
- Over-the-counter supplements
For a healthy diet, gradually limit the amount of sugar consumed. Choose whole grains over refined grains. Replace sugar and honey with fruit. Increase consumption of high-protein foods. Also be sure to avoid artificial sweeteners, which can lead to the desire for additional sugar.
Whole grains have other nutritional benefits, as they are good sources of fiber. The advantage of high-protein foods and fiber is that they take longer for the body to diget. Slowing the digestive process maintains the sensation of being full for a longer period of time.
Gradual reduction of sugar consumption can lead to decreased desire for sugary foods, and is a dietary change that is possible to maintain long term. The recommended daily amount of sugar is no more than 7% of daily total calories. That is the equivalent to six teaspoons (equal to 100 calories) for women per day and nine teaspoons (equal to 150 calories) for men per day.
Research demonstrates that prescription Naltrexone, an opioid blocker, reduces the feel-good sensation from sugar in patients with sugar addiction. This results in weaker carbohydrate cravings. Other studies show that use of amphetamines to suppress appetite decrease cravings for sweet foods. Prescription antidepressents such as Prozac and Wellbutrin can improve issues with neurotransmitters in the brain. In addition, Phentermine is a commonly used appetite suppressant.
However, Naltrexone, amphetamines, antidepressants, and appetite suppressants come with unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects.
Alternative treatments include:
- Breathing techniques
- Progressive relaxation
- Mindful meditation
- Homeopathic treatments
Research is being conducted on nutraceuticals such as HTP and the amino acids, glutamine and tyrosine, which can affect the function of dopamine receptors and regulation of appetite.
Low levels of vitamin D can reduce the ability to suppress the appetite, resulting in the constant sensation of hunger. So, supplementing with Vitamin D can be helpful for some people. Additionally, the fiber glucomannan, can decrease changes in blood glucose and insulin, thereby reducing hunger and the desire for sugary foods. Also, rhodiola, an herb that reduces stress, and the mineral, chromium, which can balance the amount of glucose in the blood, may decrease the desire for sugary foods.
As an alternative method of therapy, homeopathy seeks to treat the patient, rather than just the disease. Homeopathy is an effective method of healing acute and chronic conditions, as claimed by millions of patients worldwide and thousands of homeopathic doctors.
Our proprietary therapeutic methods are based on a belief that all humans possess certain foundational energy sources within their core, and that a person’s energy balance is tied directly to his/her state of health and wellbeing. When these energy sources are disturbed, whether from internal or external forces, disease occurs.
Our homeopathic treatments seek to neutralize these disturbances and restore a person’s natural, optimal energy balance.
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