Specialist Report: Sugar Addiction And How To Beat It

Addictive behavior has been observed in lab rats that were fed Oreo biscuits, and many studies have confirmed that sugar is as addictive as cocaine (including a 2013 study from Connecticut College, USA). Eating a lot of sugar and carbohydrates can produce massive spikes in blood sugar levels, causing high levels of insulin to be released, which, if prolonged, can increase the risk of insulin resistance, Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, premature aging, infertility, age-related macular degeneration, colon cancer and erectile dysfunction. Individuals suffering from sugar addiction can achieve good results by completely removing sugar from their diet, but that is usually not sustainable. The moment they start having even a small amount of sugar, the addiction kicks in and the cycle continues.

Why is this happening?

Sugar addiction often points to an undiagnosed underlying problem and, if it is not resolved, the habit will return after implementation of a sugar-restricted diet. Therefore, identifying underlying issues leading to sugar addiction is the fundamental step in overcoming sugar cravings permanently. The following can be classified as the primary problems of this issue.

1. Unbalanced neurotransmitters and endorphins

Sugar almost instantaneously elevates serotonin and uplifts your mood. A 2009 study in the journal Eating Behavior
stated that when tryptophan (a serotonin precursor) levels were depleted, a tremendously higher sugar intake could
be observed in overweight people. Low serotonin levels without apparent depression can be one of the reasons why some people opt for sugar.

Furthermore, eating sugar artificially stimulates the region of the brain that produces dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in the pleasure pathway. Dopamine levels drop soon after the initial surge and we start to feel “down”, which makes us crave the “high” that we get from sugar. Some people may have genetically lower quantities of these neurotransmitters, and some acquired (eg. unbalanced methylation), but their effects can be amplified when eating sugar. Studies have also found that sugar can increase endorphins in the brain that activate opiate receptors

2. Underlying fatigue

Individuals with an underactive thyroid who present with morning tiredness, adrenal fatigue or mitochondrial dysfunction tend to have a higher sugar intake to compensate for this lack of energy. Insulin-resistant patients who aren’t able to adequately utilize glucose and are fatigued eat more sugar to give them energy, which leads to a vicious cycle.

3. Gut-related sugar cravings

Imbalances in the normal ora of the gut can lead to overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, yeast and fungi – which feed on sugar – and can cause increased sugar cravings. Food allergies and sensitivities can lead to immune-system- mediated cravings. Both issues are present concomitantly with overwhelming amounts of stress and altered cortisol production, which suppress immunity.

4. Mineral depletion

Sugary foods deplete minerals in your body that are important for balancing blood sugar levels and preventing insulin resistance. High sugar intake has been shown to increase the urinary excretion by the kidneys of magnesium and chromium. Chromium increases the number of insulin receptors and promotes insulin binding. Magnesium increases glucose uptake and utilization of the skeletal muscle.

5. Hormonal imbalances cause sugar addiction

The perimenopausal period, menopause PMS due to the presence of the COMT gene or estrogen dominance, PCOS, insulin resistance, high cortisol and low growth hormone can sometimes present with overwhelming sugar cravings, due to various mechanisms.

Sugar addictions can be cured sustainably only after the underlying cause has been identified; they are treated effectively using integrative medicine with a personalized approach. Click here to find out everything about sugar substitutes – and which ones are the best for you.

Who is the specialist?

Dr Sly Nedic (MBChB (Bel)) is a WOSAAM (World Organisation Society of Anti-Aging Medicine) board-certified anti-aging physician and a certified preventive genetics diplomate. She runs her own Aholistic aesthetic and anti-aging practice in Johannesburg, called 8th Sense. Click on the link to go to their website and find out more.