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Do You have a Sweet Tooth, or is it Sugar Addiction?

Sugar AdictionAccording to the USDA, Americans increased their intake of sugar 39% between 1950 and 2000. Today, Americans eat three pounds of sugar per week on average. Adults tend to eat less, children more.

In fact, it’s hard to escape sugar these days unless you avoid processed foods and drinks completely. Sugar in some form is in nearly every processed food available including sodas, some bottled waters, juices, sports drinks, frozen pizza, bread, soup, yogurt, mayonnaise, ketchup – the list seems endless.

It wasn’t always this way. Remember fat? When the food industry decided to label a culprit in the poor health of Americans back in the 70s, it targeted fat and cholesterol. Low fat became the norm. However, low-fat foods tasted bland. To mask the missing fat, more sugar was added. The consumer was none the wiser and the food manufacturers could pat themselves on the back that they were making sales and helping Americans get healthier. But people weren’t getting healthier. In fact, obesity began to rise, as did the incidence of Type 2 diabetes. Something was – and is – very wrong.

Sugar by Any Other Name
It would be easy to avoid sugar if it was listed as “sugar” on ingredient labels. However, this is rarely the case as noted in an article on Prevention.com, “The 57 Names of Sugar.” It pays to be educated about what’s going in our mouths, especially if eating a whole foods diet, the best way to avoid unnecessary and over-processed sugars, is not possible all the time. It’s not simply that these sugars provide empty calories; many are derived from genetically modified foods. If you’re trying to avoid GMOs, then you will need to be extra vigilant when reading labels to be sure you’re not inadvertently eating a GMO-derived sweetener.

Sugar’s Addictive Qualities
When your body is running low on a neurotransmitter, the brain opens more receptors for that neurotransmitter to increase the odds of a connection. Think of it in terms of supply and demand. When there’s less of something available, the demand for it goes up. With so many open receptors, a sugar-sensitive person who delays ingesting a sugary substance (candy, alcohol, etc.) will experience an even greater release of serotonin when she does finally give in. This, in turn, intensifies the resulting sugar “high.” This over-the-top response can lead to more cravings. Women especially are attuned to these cravings because of hormonal fluctuations.

French scientists reported in a 2007 study how strong the pull of sugar can be on an addicted individual. Using cocaine-addicted rats, they gave the rats a choice of sugar or cocaine. The rats chose sugar. Since cocaine is a known to be highly addictive, this finding is quite troubling. It appears that breaking the sugar dependence cycle can be as hard as ending the reliance on a highly addictive drug, legal or illegal.

Eliminating sugar from your diet can trigger withdrawal symptoms even if you are not highly addicted. People looking to get off the sugar train have experienced headaches, shakiness, nausea, fatigue and even depression. The reason is simple: the brain becomes accustomed to frequent beta-endorphin bursts. When we take those bursts away by reducing or eliminating sugar, it naturally wants more. Our bodies will go to great lengths to get its sugar fix. In fact, the cravings, pain and depression will almost magically ease once the demand for sugar is met. Over time, however, sugar dependence shows its dark side. The ramifications of sugar dependence far outweigh any benefits (and there are few save a happy mouth). Eating too many sugar-rich foods play a key role in initiating or supporting:

High blood pressure
Painful limbs
Arthritic symptoms
Nervous tension
Violent behavior

At no other time in history have humans consumed as much sugar as they do today. That’s why research on its effects is ongoing.

Breaking Sugar Addiction
Attempting to go “cold turkey” when you have a sugar addiction may seem like a good idea, but in reality is usually isn’t. Remember the withdrawal symptoms listed above? A better and more likely route to success when breaking a sugar addiction is to reduce the amount of sugar you eat gradually. This will have a two-fold effect:  you will minimize your withdrawal symptoms and your body will still get its “fix” while being unaware that you are tapering down. A positive side effect from sugar reduction may be weight loss. After all, an overabundance of sugar converts into fat, which has a tendency to show up in all the wrong places.

Hormonal fluctuations can contribute to sugar cravings. Give us a call to schedule a  consultation to learn how balanced hormones can ease the lure of sugar.


Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy
505 Salt Lick Rd., St Peters, MO 63376

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About Frank J. Nuber RPh

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