By Dr. Mercola
Sugar, in moderate amounts, is essential to our body. As a carbohydrate, it helps supply you with the energy you need for your daily activities. All of your cells use it. But at the same time, sugar is also a calorie, and once it is in consumed in excess, negative effects to your health will follow. Massive sugar addiction can result in obesity, diabetes, heart damage or failure, cancer cell production, depletion of brain power, and shorter lifespans.1
Moderation is important in this case. Yet avoiding food with high sugar content is definitely easier said than done these days, given the variety of options in stores. Some of the usual suspects include energy drinks, sodas, candy bars, artificial sweeteners, and so much more. Everyone has access to them.
What Lies Behind Sugar Addiction
Sugar addiction obviously begins when you crave anything that contains this sweet ingredient. Eating sugar triggers production of natural opioids in your brain. These hormones aid in relieving the pain and are triggered in the same way one would consume illegal drugs.2
According to researchers, your tongue has two sweet receptors in it, which evolved during the early times, when our ancestors ate a typically low-sugar diet. As the years went by, people's tongues were still not able to adapt to sweet treats. This is why when the receptors in your tongue are highly stimulated, it results in your brain sending out excessive reward signals whenever you eat something with sugar in it, which end up overriding your self-control mechanisms. This leads to addiction.
Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in The Atlantic that:
"The brain's pleasure center, called the nucleus accumbens, is essential for our survival as a species… When you consume any substance of abuse, including sugar, the nucleus accumbens receives a dopamine signal, from which you experience pleasure. And so you consume more. The problem is that with prolonged exposure, the signal attenuates, gets weaker. So you have to consume more to get the same effect -- tolerance. And if you pull back on the substance, you go into withdrawal. Tolerance and withdrawal constitute addiction."3
Another major player in possible sugar addiction is the hormone leptin. It is responsible for telling the brain how energy that is stored from fat is to be used. Moreover, it targets taste receptors in your tongue, which could increase or decrease your food cravings. When you lack leptin or if there is a problem with your body's leptin receptors, then your chances of craving food will be bigger, and more often than not, sugar is always the first pick when it comes to combatting cravings.
76 Ways Sugar Can Ruin Your Health
Too much sugar can lead to detrimental effects to your health. I counted at least 76 ways (yes, you read that right!) in which sugar can cause serious health risks for you. These hazards are divided into four categories: Increased Risk of Diseases and Sicknesses, Nutrient Imbalance or Deficiency, Bodily Impairments, and Behavioral Changes.
Nutrient Imbalance or Deficiency
- Upsets the mineral relationships in your body
- Chromium deficiency
- Interferes with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and protein
- Increases total cholesterol, triglycerides, and bad cholesterol levels
- Decreases good cholesterol levels
- Lowers vitamin E levels
- Body changes sugar into two to five times more fat in the bloodstream compared to starch
- Addictive and intoxicating, similar to alcohol
- Rapid rise of adrenaline, hyperactivity, and anxiety
- Leads to difficulty in concentration, drowsiness, and crankiness in children
- Results in decreased activity in children
- Reduces learning capacity and can cause learning disorders that could affect schoolchildren’s grades
- Increases risk of antisocial behavior
- Decrease in emotional stability
Increased Risk of Diseases and Sicknesses
- Feeds cancer cells
- Can induce cell death
- Increases fasting levels of glucose
- Increases systolic blood pressure
- Significant increase in platelet adhesion
- Leads to formation of kidney stones and gallstones
- Rapid sugar absorption promotes excessive food intake
- Decreases insulin sensitivity, leading to high insulin levels and eventually diabetes
- Reactive hypoglycemia
- Headaches, including migraines
- Gastrointestinal tract problems
- Food allergies
- Promotes chronic degenerative diseases
- Causes atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases
- Causes cataracts and nearsightedness
- May lead to autoimmune diseases like arthritis, asthma, and multiple sclerosis
- Causes emphysema
- Contributes to osteoporosis
- Contraction of appendicitis, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins
- Parkinson’s disease (people with said disease have high sugar intake)
- Increases risk of gout and Alzheimer’s disease
- Acidity in saliva, tooth decay, and periodontal diseases
- Gum disease
- Greatly promotes uncontrolled growth of Candida Albicans (yeast infections)
- Toxemia in pregnancy
- Contributes to eczema in children
- Worsens symptoms of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Increases risk of polio
- May lead to epileptic seizures
- Could lead to high blood pressure in obese people
- Increased consumption in intensive care units can induce death
- Has potential to induce abnormal metabolic processes in a normal healthy individual
- Suppression of immune system, increasing risk of contracting infectious diseases
- Loss of tissue elasticity and function
- Weaker eyesight
- Premature aging
- Increases advanced glycation end products wherein sugar molecules attach to proteins and end up damaging them
- DNA structure impairment
- Can cut off oxygen to brain via intravenous feedings
- Change in protein structure and causes a permanent alteration of protein acts in your body
- Changing of collagen structure
- Skin aging
- Impairs physiological homeostasis of bodily systems
- Lowers ability of enzymes to function
- Increases liver size by making liver cells divide, increasing the amount of liver fat
- Increase kidney size and producing pathological changes
- Pancreatic damage
- Increase in body’s fluid retention
- Affects urinary electrolyte composition
- Slows down ability of adrenal glands to function
- Compromises lining of capillaries
- Brittle tendons
- Can cause an increase in delta, alpha, and theta brain waves, which can alter the mind’s ability to think clearly
- Causes hormonal imbalances
- Increases free radicals and oxidative stress
- Leads to substantial decrease in gestation, with a twofold increased risk for delivering a small-for-gestational-age infant
- Dehydration among newborns
- Affects carbon dioxide production when given to premature babies
How to Break Sugar Addiction
Don't fret – it's not too late to kick those bad habits to the curb. I have a couple of recommendations on how to safely consume sugar without sacrificing your health.
The first would be to appeal to your emotions. Sometimes, when you crave food, it is triggered by an emotional need such as wanting to relieve stress or feel a little bit happier after a tiring day. More often than not, people tend to ignore their emotions when considering whether to eat healthy or otherwise.
I highly recommend the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a simple and effective psychological acupressure technique that could help you manage the emotional components of your cravings. It has been proven to relieve a lot of emotional traumas, abolish phobias and post-traumatic stresses, break down food cravings, and lessen physical pain and discomfort.
What EFT entails in its practitioners is to have the right mindset when going on a diet or just taking steps to improve on their health. If you're already curious, you can browse through the basics of EFT here.
Another way to reduce sugar consumption would be to lessen the amount of sugar that you consume on a daily basis – below 25 grams to be exact – including that from whole fruits.
I also advise you to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) at all costs. This is a sweetener that is made from corn and found in many of the food items that we eat and drink today. Now, this is considered to be deadly not only because of the amount of sugar that goes in it, but also because of the health risks that can it can cause, most of which were already mentioned above.
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Choosing a well-balanced diet tailored to your specific body type helps, with extra emphasis on food rich in fiber, which helps slow down the absorption of sugar, and food rich in high quality omega-3 fats, which are also crucial to lessening the impact of eating excessive sugar. Avoiding food with high sugar content and constantly rehydrating with fresh and pure water are also recommended.
Lastly, exercising every day, along with optimizing your vitamin D levels, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress levels can also help minimize the effects of excessive sugar intake. Exercise in particular is known to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce stress levels, suppress ghrelin (the appetite hormone), speed up metabolism, strengthen bones, and boost your mood.
It can be quite difficult to say no to sweets, especially if you have been consuming them on a daily basis, but trust me, once you feel the effects that lowering your sugar intake has on your body, it will all be worth it.