Is Sugar Addictive?

Sound silly and farfetched that sugar is addictive, acting like cocaine would in your system? Unfortunately, just like smoking was thought to be “safe” back in the day, sugar addiction is real.  Over the past few years, major reputable news venues have even brought it into public light, as opposed to it being just an organics crowd movement.  Neurologists can determine how it impacts the brain.

 “Sugar is addictive. And we don’t mean addictive in that way that people talk about delicious foods.

We mean addictive, literally, in the same way as drugs.”

New York Times (Dec 2014)

Scientists have observed in humans, and tested on rats, the addictive behaviors and neurological changes that have developed in response to the sugar’s triggering of dopamine in the system.   Dopamine is a “happy” chemical that sends signals to other nerve cells and plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior.   These dopamine pathways then become used to responding to the “sugar high” behavior.  Scientists and psychologists have paired addiction and sugar in a horrifying way.  The refinement process is what is stripping foods down to just pure sugars, without the natural buffers found in fruits and vegetables.   The NYT article found that “similar refinement processes transform other plants like poppies and coca into heroin and cocaine. Refined sugars also affect people’s bodies and brains.”  Pretty strong statements!

  • Bingeing (unusually large bouts of intake)
  • Withdrawal (opiate-like, with signs of anxiety and behavioral depression)
  • Craving (measured during sugar abstinence as enhanced responding for sugar)
  • Cross-sensitization (sensitivity to something that is similar to another substance)

The sugar binge becomes the body’s “dopamine” pathway to happiness, reinforcing the happy behavior feeling.  Repetitive sugar consumption makes our body respond the same way that a body responds to an addictive drug.

Don’t eat a lot of sugar, just off and on, and so you think this doesn’t affect you?  The brain pathways and a resulting happy behavior remain the same for people with a full out addiction.  “A diet comprised of alternating deprivation and access to a sugar solution and [eating] produces bingeing on sugar that leads to a long lasting state of increased sensitivity…due to a lasting alteration [exposure] in the dopamine system.”

When I go through difficult times, I go to food to fill the craving for control in my life; my waistline can tell you this is not the appropriate action or reaction to take! I like to say that my “hips have hips.”  I’ve never been a thin or very fit person to begin with, and while I enjoy active exercising like hiking or rollerblading before I had kids, I over-prefer sedimentary activities like reading and writing.

I have a reliance on sugar as a “rewarding” way to self-sooth.  Stress produces a high amount of a hormone called cortisol and sugar releases serotonin, which is a hormone that has a calm, relaxing affect.  Again with the brain-gut-brain connection.  It’s not “all in your head,” unfortunately.  Who doesn’t have stress to trigger that desire for calm?

How You Can Break Your Sugar Addiction in 10 Days (Video) is a great audio-visual discussion.  While they talk about breaking it in 10 days, I’ve got that beat and in a way that minimizes the withdrawal symptoms!

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