Poor sugar control does not only cause heart disease and stroke but also brain problems and depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, hypoglycemia and metabolic syndrome. All of these conditions are becoming health issues of epidemic proportions. What can we learn about sugar as a trigger in each of these conditions? Please read on to find out.
Your brain 101
Weighing only 3 pounds, our brain comprises 2% of our body weight, and uses 30% of the calories we ingest. It needs glucose to function, but not from highly processed sources like table sugar, pasta, bread, cakes, etc. which are released quickly into the blood stream. It needs a steady source of complex carbohydrates that are released slowly such as glucose from vegetables, but also healthy fats, protein, nuts, and at least 30 grams of fiber each day. Fast carbohydrates cause a stress reaction in the body, says Dr. Khalsa, author of the book “Brain Longevity”. Sugar is a stress for the body in individuals without problems metabolizing sugar in the body, even more for diabetics whose body cannot clear the sugar from the blood stream so the sugar stays longer after a meal than it should. He observed how these people performed worse in memory tasks than those with normal blood sugar control, had a smaller hippocampus, causing poor memory. Nowadays, kids with diabetes are also experiencing cognitive difficulties.
Experts believe we overeat sugar to experience a rush of dopamine. Dopamine is released in the brain when we experience pleasure. Eating sugar is like the brain’s way to get a reward, so eating becomes a source of pleasure. People who feel compelled to eat more are actually trying to compensate for the low dopamine state by stimulating it with food. This is the same for drug addicts. Sugar, drugs and alcohol all activate similar reward-related parts of the brain, the opioid system, and trigger the release of opioids such as beta-endorphins and dopamine.
New research is finding how insulin resistance might be linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by causing some of the early biochemical changes found in Alzheimer’s disease. What is more, ingesting sugary foods not only is believed to increase free radicals but lower levels of vitamin E (a free radical scavenger) thus causing inflammation of the arteries that could increase one’s risk for stroke and Alzheimer’s. Free radicals can cause inflammation of the blood vessels and ultimately block flow to the brain, contributing to serious health problems including stroke, heart disease and cancer. Dr. Dandona explains free radicals accelerate hardening of the arteries everywhere in the body, including the brain. Inflammation damages the lining of blood vessels which can inhibit a healthy flow of blood to the brain, robbing oxygen, which can increase chances of Alzheimer’s, heart disease and stroke.
Julia Ross, M.A., in her book “The Mood Cure”, explains that because people are not eating as healthy, they are suffering from nutritional deprivation and depression is skyrocketing. Adult rates of depression have tripled and over 80% of those who consult a doctor complain of excessive stress, she explains. Scientists point to the fact that people self-medicate with sugar when they are under stress, anxious, depressed, tired or moody.
Addicted to sugar
The authors of “Sugar Shock” describe how sugar can be as addictive as heroin. Experiments performed with mice show how feeding them sugar caused some neurochemical changes in their part of brain where acetylcholine (neurotransmitter associated with aversion) was increased and the release of the brain chemical dopamine (neurotransmitter involved with motivation and reward) decreased. Further observation revealed that the more sucrose they ate, the more food they craved (about 33% more). When the sugar was taken away from them they became irritable, aggressive even toward the lab technicians. They also showed more addictive behaviors, like drinking more sucrose in stressful situations, their sleep cycle was disrupted, etc.
Sugar can depress you
Compelling research shows that sweets can cause feelings of despair, desolation, and hopelessness and this is only the beginning of a downward spiral because these feelings only make subjects turn to sweets again and again to quench these feelings of depression and unhappiness.
Scientists have been questioning whether people actually self-medicate when they are depressed. To learn whether this was the case or not, Larry Christensen, Ph.D. at the psychology department of the University of South Alabama, studied 113 male and 138 females. 67% reported they craved sugary foods when feeling anxious, depressed, tired or moody. After eating the sugary stuff 7% reported feeling happy, relaxed or energetic. As their cravings increased so did their emotional stress, the higher the craving the more distress they reported. After eating the sugar they felt better but not for long. Those that craved something sweet reported stronger cravings than those that craved protein. Welsh psychology professor Paul Willner, Ph. D. in one study he conducted he observed that depression increased the intensity of the cravings.
Judith Wurtman, Ph. D., developed a serotonin theory when she observed that people seek carbohydrates when their depressed brains need the amino acid tryptophan which is serotonin building block and which has been diminishing from our food supply over the last century. Like we mentioned before, sugary foods will keep tryptophan from reaching our brain.
Psychologist David Benton believes that stress or low mood induce eating sugary foods. Apart from serotonin, another group of neurotransmitters called opioids which the body produces when eating, can also influence our moods, enhancing feelings of euphoria, self-esteem and confidence. They are chemically similar to morphine and act like opiates (drugs) dulling the pain of both physical and emotional wounds. Just by tasting sugar in your tongue you can make your brain release endorphins. In experiments they administered sugar directly into the digestive tract, bypassing the tongue, and there was no release of endorphins. Stress can induce eating to achieve this endorphin release; What happens when we are under stress is neurotransmitters and blood sugar rise in tandem, creating a temporary euphoria but then drop us into depression, especially sugar sensitive people. These feelings might send you after the sweet high to drop you again and again. People who don’t manage their blood sugar properly are more likely to be depressed.
In his book ‘Diet, Crime and Delinquency’ Dr. Schauss conducted studies on sugar dependency and criminal behavior and to his astonishment there was a dramatic decline in this behavior when sugar and junk foods were removed. He found significant declines in anti-social behaviors. Changing their diets from white breads, pasta, candy, chemical additives to fresh vegetables, water, healthy fats, lean meats and fish got astounding results, with 80% of them becoming productive members of society. Moreover, research by the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that children with certain nutritional deficiencies were more aggressive as they grew older. They were not getting crucial minerals like zinc, iron, B vitamins and protein needed to develop a healthy nervous system and mental and emotional health and stability.
Sugar will deplete your body of important nutrients
Nancy Appleton Ph.D., asserts sugar will rob your body of important minerals like chromium, copper, and other minerals and interfere with the absorption of calcium, magnesium and protein. According to Dr. Rockwell, not enough chromium in the body will keep your body from getting enough sugar into the cells and diverting it into fat cells. This translates into wanting more food even if you are full: you will eat more sugar, your insulin will spike, then it will get low and you will feel terrible again. Supplementing with chromium picolinate can have a dramatic effect in normalizing appetite.
Also, if you are eating a lot of carbohydrates you are most probably not getting enough omega 3 fatty acids, so important for the heart, which also have anti-depressant effects in the body.
‘Hypo’ meaning ‘low’ and ‘glycemia’ meaning ‘blood sugar’, it means your blood sugar gets too low for you to carry on normal daily activities. It will cause you to become confused, irritable, spacey, lightheaded and more. Remember that insulin is the hormone that removes sugar from the blood stream, this sugar deprivation triggers an outpouring of counter-regulatory hormones mostly from the adrenals, says Ronald Hoffman M.D. These hormones oppose the action of insulin and push blood sugar back up. Unfortunately, these same hormones initiate the fight or flight or stress response causing heart palpitations, sweaty palms, nervousness, tremor and sometimes panic attack Dr. Hoffman explains. As serious as it can be this condition has mostly been mis-diagnosed or not even considered a disease. Many times it has been wrongly treated as hysteria, brain tumor, coronary thrombosis, epilepsy, gallbladder disease, asthma, allergies, etc.
Hypoglycemia is characterized by an extreme stress reaction in the body that include: sweating, shakiness, trembling, anxiety, fast heart action, headache, hunger sensations, brief feelings of weakness, fatigue, crying spells, heart palpitations, depression, cold hand and feet, and sometimes, seizures and coma all caused by a sudden drop in blood sugar after eating sweets. This condition is not measurable because even when the blood sugar is low, it will show normal in a test. This drop of blood sugar is so deadly that in order to avoid seizures and death the body always responds with an emergency stress hormone release. Many things can trigger hypoglycemia: skipping meals, eating too much sugar, over-exercising, and too much stress. The most tragic of situations is when hypoglycemia sufferers are dismissed as hypochondriacs or mentally unstable.
Low blood is not caused by a lack of sugar in the diet says Dr.Harvey Ross, but by failure of the body’s sugar-regulating mechanism, which results in a lowered sugar level in the blood after the person has eaten sugar. The worst thing someone with low blood sugar can do is to eat more sugar. This condition won’t go away until you completely lay off the sugar. The organ affected by too much sugar consumption is the pancreas. It is the most susceptible to damage by excess sweeteners. Dr. Nancy Appleton Ph. D. says.
There are over 70 different symptoms related to hypoglycemia that are a manifestation of an excessive stress response none of which are recognized as serious, but are misdiagnosed and neglected. Despite this, hypoglycemia is rampant according to Dr. Ronald Hoffman, “many people have it, but they don’t even know it “. He adds, hypoglycemia is triggering the obesity epidemic in this country because people are overeating after their blood sugar drops and they can’t stop”. The authors believe that diabetes is becoming an epidemic as well as hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is a prelude to diabetes, since both conditions have to do with underlying blood sugar imbalances, hypoglycemia can be seen as a prediabetic form of glucose intolerance which can develop eventually as full blown diabetes, according to James Chow MD and Cheryl Chow.
Dr. DeOrio describes how hypoglycemia could lead to type 2 diabetes: when the brain craves for glucose, you eat more simple carbs to get it up, then you get into the cycle low sugar, high sugar, low sugar, high sugar, on and on, which taxes your pancreas and leads to either insulin deficiency or to greater insulin resistance and then type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is actually chronic hypoglycemia.
Cancer feeds on sugar
If what we have learned so far was not enough stress for the body, we can add one more stress: cancer. The well- known research done on cancer free Eskimos is a proof that a sugar free diet is the best anti-cancer therapy there is, this is further evidenced by the fact that once they adopted the ‘civilized’ diet, they started dying of degenerative diseases. Dr. Keith I. Block, M.D. points out “A major ingredient in the recipe for getting cancer is a diet high in refined sugar, high in unhealthy fats particularly omega 6 fatty acids and saturated fats” “Tumors are glucose guzzlers. If you strangulate the supply of sugar to a tumor, it may actually trigger a form of biological suicide among the malignant cells. All this applies to breast cancer in women and cancers of all types like colon cancer, endometrial cancer (uterus).
The most obvious condition caused by high sugar diets, diabetes, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. alone. Around 7% of the population has diabetes and around 6.2 million have prediabetes which means they have not been diagnosed as diabetic but still have glucose levels higher than normal. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes and is the one that can be easily reversed by cutting down simple carbs and exercising. The dangers of untreated blood sugar problems are heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease, nervous systems disorders and impaired circulation which can lead to blindness and loss of limbs.
Previously known as Syndrome X and insulin resistance syndrome, metabolic syndrome can be defined as a cluster of symptoms which could significantly increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Many experts are now realizing that identifying this condition is an effective way to catch diseases while they are still in the developmental stage. Metabolic syndrome doesn’t show up in blood tests normally given in a routine check- up. A doctor would have to order a set of specific tests to identify its six classic symptoms, which according to the American Heart Association include:
- Excess abdominal fat.
- Insulin resistance or glucose intolerance: elevated levels of glucose. The body cannot properly use insulin or blood sugar.
- Hyperlipidemia: high level of fats circulating in the blood.
- Pro-thrombotic state: tendency of blood to clot.
- Pro-inflammatory state: the lining of the arteries is inflamed which is one of the first steps to forming plaque in your arteries.
Causes of metabolic syndrome are sugar according to Dr. Victor Zammit. He explains the process that leads to diabetes as follows: ‘Tissues are exposed to high insulin and glucose levels which causes them to be damaged. Excess insulin causes the liver to pump out even more dangerous triglycerides, which can cause insulin resistance in the muscle cells and stops them from removing glucose from the blood. As time goes by more insulin is secreted. The blood becomes flooded with fatty acids, which start destroying the pancreatic cells that produce insulin causing insulin levels to plummet. The result is type 2 diabetes. The development of insulin resistance in the various tissues lead to metabolic syndrome”
When it comes to marketing products there are so many misconceptions and misleading labels it is easy to be fooled. If you are ready to kick your sugar habit there are some things you need to know:
- ‘Reduced sugar’, sugar free’, ‘no added sugar’, Low fat’ and ‘fat free’ don’t mean the product has no sugar.
- Raw sugar, brown rice syrup, barley malt and maple syrup are not better than refined white sugar. They are all metabolized in our bodies like sucrose, raising our blood sugar levels rapidly, upsetting mineral relations and suppressing the immune system, according to Dr. Nancy Appleton.
- Fruit juice concentrates are not better for you than refined sugars. All of these are metabolized in the same way as refined sugars according to dietician Grieger, they are also stripped of most vitamins, minerals and fiber she explains.
- Honey is not better for you than sugar. Honey is 1/3 fructose, 1/3 glucose a little of maltose and 20% water. Honey is even more concentrated than table sugar, it has 5 grams of sugar per teaspoon vs. 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon for sucrose or table sugar according to Dr. Appleton.
- Sucrose is only natural if you can get it directly from a cane stalk or beet still planted in the ground. However, the white commercial sugar is highly refined and chemically altered from its origins as cane stalks or sugar beets, explains experienced food and beverage formulator Russ Bianchi “To make sugar, you first have to take the stalks or beets an do physical processing or crushing, followed by filtering. Then some refiners use an industrial acid and/or chemical enzymatic treatment which means you are adding hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid to assist in ridding the product of impurities or foreign matter.” Other processes include bleaching, boiling, some harmful agents are added like sodium nitrate, silicon dioxide, chlorine, titanium dioxide (a whitening agent that contains arsenic).
- ‘All natural’ is a misleading name that reflects an ample leeway in food labeling and it certainly does not mean it does not contain sugar.
- Fructose is not better because it comes from fruits. Fruits contain many other sugars apart from fructose (technically known as levulose), sucrose (which is half fructose), glucose, dextrose, maltose, galactose and other saccharides. While they are better than the chemically refined fructose from corn, they still are high in sugars and therefore should be avoided.
- Evaporated cane juice, cane syrup solids, cane nectar, beet nectar, cane juice, beet juice and naturally milled cane are all misleading terms because they imply there is no sugar in the product. They are all metabolized by the body exactly the same way that white refined sugar is. They cause the same stimulating effect on insulin as refined sugars asserts nutritionist Nan Kathryn Fuchs, Ph. D.
If you still want to have sweets, stevia or xylitol are great alternatives without the side effects.
Lastly, sweeteners can have over 100 different names. It can become very impractical to read every single food label. The best ways to kick the sugar and food habits are:
- Good nutrition: A diet high in healthy fats, protein and fiber with all the digestive support we have discussed in previous articles as well as plenty of fresh vegetables.
- Herbs can help your body manage blood sugar. The “Heart and Body Extract” is a wonderful combination of herbs that will help your body to naturally balance blood sugar levels: Ginseng can help boost endorphin release by the brain, cayenne can release feel-good chemicals and naturally reduce the pain response. Other herbs like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, licorice root, gymnena sylvestre can help too.
- Moderate exercise can shut down the part of the brain that signals hunger and reduce stress.
- Cutting down sweets will force your body to use up its glycogen stores which will help you maintain healthy blood sugar balance. When this happens you will naturally crave less sweets.
- Supplements like chromium and vanadium or glutamine powder. According to Ben Fuchs the amino acid glutamine can “allow brain cells to convert the amino acid into glucose and this may make it useful for beating cravings. 500-2000 mg every few hours, especially when hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) hits in the middle of the day.” Also, 5HTP (up to 300mg/day), the B vitamins (you can’t overdose on these), tryptophan (1,000 mg/day or as needed).
- Drinking plenty of good quality water will dilute excess blood sugar, especially when drank first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
- Simple dietary changes and exercise can reverse this condition by 58%. Just 10-15 pound weight loss improved health dramatically according to Mary Hoskin, R.D., M.S., without being reliant on insulin or oral agents. Also, reducing fast burning carbohydrates and replacing them with protein and good fats like coconut oil, avocados, flax seed, EFA’s, etc. get better results than administering oral insulin. You might want to know how to recognize high carbs foods: starches are 100% glucose, fruit sugar and milk sugar are only 50% glucose.
Summing up, blood sugar disorders can create havoc in our health. Both high blood sugar and low blood sugar when they become chronic can cause the same stress reaction in the body as running from a tiger that wants to eat us. Not only this, sugar and sweeteners can clog and damage our arteries, rob our body of important minerals, among other things. The good news is that we can wean ourselves from sugar with good nutrition and products like the “Heart and Body Extract”.