Do you have a Valentine’s Day
–size sugar hangover every day? Dr. Frank Lipman gives us the skinny on sugar addiction and offers suggestions on how to kick the habit.
Having been a serious sugar addict and still struggling with my addiction, I’ve always found it strange that the medical profession does not recognize this problem. I would say that the majority of my patients are sugar addicts, too, although most only become aware of it when they try to stop eating it. All of us have experienced the cravings and withdrawals when we stop, so it’s nice to know there are studies now documenting this, albeit in rats.
Professor Bart Hoebel, a Princeton University scientist, and his team have been studying signs of sugar addiction in rats for years. The stages of addiction, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, include bingeing, withdrawal, and craving. Until now, the rats had met two of the elements of addiction: bingeing and withdrawal. Their most recent experiment showed craving and relapse as well, critical components of addiction, to complete the picture. In other words, excess sugar leads to not only bingeing and withdrawal, but also a craving for sweets.
They recently presented this new evidence at the 2008 annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, demonstrating that sugar can be an addictive substance, similar to many addictive drugs.
Better Than Cocaine?
A study out of France, presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, showed that when rats were given the choice between water sweetened with saccharin and intravenous cocaine, 94 percent chose the saccharin water. The same preference was also observed when the water was sweetened with sucrose (sugar); the rats overwhelmingly chose the sugar water. When the rats were offered larger doses of cocaine, it did not alter their preference for the saccharin or sugar water. In other words, intense sweetness was more rewarding to the brain than cocaine.
The authors concluded that in most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors are not adapted to high concentrations of sweets. The excessive stimulation of these receptors by the sugar-rich diets in today’s societies generate reward signals in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus lead to addiction.
For most of us, sugar is a symbol of love and nurturance. As infants, our first food is lactose, or milk sugar. As we leave the breast of our mothers, they continue to nurture us with sugar treats, which become a reward system. This leads to being conditioned to need something sweet to feel complete or satisfied. Sugar is the first addiction for almost everyone with addictions later in life.
If foods that are high in sugars are used only as occasional treats in the diet and not as a main component of our diet … that is fine.
Eight Tips for Kicking Your Sugar Habit
Having a sugar addiction is like having a drug addiction; it is very hard to overcome. Having a good plan and being prepared is essential. Here are some tips I have found to be helpful:
1. Have a breakfast of protein, fat, and phytonutrients to start your day off right. The breakfast smoothies in my book Revive are ideal for this. The typical breakfast full of carbs and sugary or starchy foods is the worst thing you can do for sugar cravings, as you’ll have them all day. Having a good breakfast is essential to prevent the cravings.
2. Eat regularly. Eat three meals and two snacks a day. For many people, if they don’t eat regularly, their blood sugar levels drop, they feel hungry, and are more likely to crave sweet, sugary snacks.
3. Take L-Glutamine, 100-300 mg every couple of hours as necessary. It often relieves sugar cravings as the brain uses it for fuel.
4. Distract yourself. Go for a walk in nature. Do some push-ups. Cravings usually last for a maximum ten to twenty minutes. If you can manage to distract yourself with something else, it often passes. The more often you do this, the easier it gets, and the cravings get easier to deal with.
5. Have a piece of fruit. If you have to give in to your cravings, have a piece of fruit; it should satisfy a sweet craving and is much healthier.
6. Drink lots of water. Sometimes drinking water or seltzer water can help with the sugar cravings.
7. Keep sugary snacks out of your house and office if possible. It’s difficult to snack on things that aren’t there!
8. Be open to exploring the emotional issues around your sugar addiction.
Originally Published on Tonic