Sugar Addiction is REAL...Are You Addicted?
I don’t know about you, but ever since this COVID-19 crisis, food just seems more appealing, especially anything containing sugar. Why? Well, like many, I find food comforting during times of stress. That doesn’t mean I eat a lot of processed carbage (garbage carbs). My weaknesses are 90% dark chocolate, wild blueberries, spoonfuls of raw honey, and more recently a fancy little tuber known as tigernuts (wait, what?). I know what you’re thinking. How are those weaknesses? Well they aren’t in small amounts, but I tend to actually overeat these things at times. The dose is the issue, not the food quality itself. So, understand that someone like me, seemingly someone in control of his food intake, can be vulnerable at times as well. Quick Disclaimer: Before reading further, I am in no way suggesting that addiction to sugar is comparable to the wide-ranging and damaging effects addiction to illegal drugs or alcohol can have on families and friends of the individual suffering. Always know that we are here for support. What is it about sugar that’s so addicting? Generally, refined white sugar is the bigger culprit. Refinement crushes the tiny sugar particles into even smaller sizes so it is readily absorbed. This is the same process used to make addictive illegal drugs like cocaine. And guess what...sugar is just as addictive (at the least..) as cocaine. As a matter of fact, it lights up the SAME, EXACT dopamine receptors in the brain. Rather than telling you not to eat sugar, I’d rather offer a different way to think about sugar and it’s relationship to addiction. I’ve been challenging myself, my patients and clients with this as well. It takes 3 basic characteristics to diagnose an addiction. If these 3 characteristics are present then a substance or behavior can be considered to have “drug-like effects.” Read below: 1. Cravings: Do you experience a strong desire “to use” sugar? I can check the “yes” box. 2. Tolerance: Do you have a “gradual escalation in intake with repeated use” of sugar? I know I do. Dose makes the poison for me, not food quality itself, as I never eat refined foods. I can check the “yes” box. 3. Withdrawal: Do you experience “adverse physiological (and psychological...) effects with discontinued use” of sugar? I most definitely can check the “yes” box. To top that list off, sugar was actually shown to have 6 MORE characteristics of drug-like effects. A grand total of 9. You can surely consider it a drug. But should we? I think that depends on your goals and is more of an individual discussion. I’ve been trying to view dietary change a little different, recently. Rather than telling people what to eat, I’d rather them be aware of their relationship with food or beverages they consume. It’s really easy to tell someone to eat real food that looks like food, right? Did our ancestors eat it? Cool, it’s probably decent for you to eat. But, eating excess sugar is clearly a habitual problem for a lot of people, and I don’t think it’s limited to just refined processed sugar. It can be the natural good stuff that I eat, too. So I’ll offer you a couple scenarios to think about every time you’re reaching for your sugary drug of choice. 1. Say you or someone you know is addicted to cocaine. Maybe some of you do know someone. Would it be okay if we told them, “Hey, you know we’re going to be really good all week and not take cocaine. But...on Sunday...we can have just a little bit.” How do you think that would go? 2. Take the same scenario as above, but substitute alcohol for cocaine. Maybe some of you know someone addicted to alcohol. Would it be okay if we told them, “Hey, you know we’re going to be really good all week and not drink any alcohol. But...just on Friday...we can have just one small glass.” How do you think that scenario would play out? I think we can agree that, under most conditions, the two scenarios above wouldn’t end well. While they may seem far-fetched and ridiculous, you can certainly apply these same scenarios to sugar. It’s just that no one thinks of sugar as a drug with drug-like effects. The reality is that chronic, excessive sugar consumption is harmful. I’d say in all it’s forms. It’s at the root of almost all chronic diseases that plague us. So please join me in making a shift in your thinking about sugar. Awareness is key. It’s the first step in recognizing addiction. I’m aware that I’ve been addicted to sugar at times. Are you? Hope to see you and your loved ones soon to take care of your chiropractic and functional medicine needs! Stay safe.
1. DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson WL. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:910-913.