Monday, November 8, 2010

Physical Aspects: What Sugar Does to Your Brain

I've known for a long time that refined sugars made me 'feel good'.  The older I got the more stress entered life and my sugar consumption began a steady increase while my health began a steady decrease.  I got to the point that I could eat candy or some kind of junk food, stand in the kitchen and literally feel the subtle wave of calming and euphoria hit me.  Humiliating and enslaving, disgusting and pathetic to need something like that to feel happy in life or to cope. 

It's important to remember that the more a substance is refined the less nutrition it has and it takes on a basic chemical form.  Why is this of interest?  Sugar in it's bleached and refined state leeches a multitude of vitamins and minerals from the body in order for the body to process it.  [Dr. David Reuben, author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition says,] “…white refined sugar-is not a food. It is a pure chemical extracted from plant sources, purer in fact than cocaine, which it resembles in many ways."

There are many scientists and doctors that scoff at people who claim to have sugar addiction.  In fact there are not a lot of studies to back it up or disprove it.  I don't think it takes a scientist to tell any of us that sugar is addictive.  This article pulls form several websites and studies about the effects of sugar on the brain and mental capacity.

As a disclaimer, I DO NOT advocate extreme dieting or diets that aren't based on moderation.   I don't agree with every thing on these sites but there is some good information to filter through.

Keeping Your Brain Healthy by Dr. Patsi Krakroff
When you have an elevated blood-sugar level, you elevate your insulin level. You also elevate your stress hormones, which follows right behind your blood sugar. These are all capable of causing inflammatory responders to go into high gear in the body. This can damage the mitochondria of the cells, which are our main cellular energy-producers.

When the mitochondria are damaged by constant elevation of blood sugar, especially if you are overweight, this may cause a pre-diabetic or diabetic condition. When the mitochondria are damaged, the nerve cell deteriorates and dies. This is why sugar addicts experience fatigue.

Daily drinkers of alcohol are particularly prone to brain damage as they age. Since alcohol is processed as sugar…

Artificial sweeteners are not the solution. They can cause headaches, migraines and attention difficulties.  [Full article here]

What Sugar Does To Your Brain
By Dr. Scott Olson

brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). 
Research has shown that high sugar diets (along with high fat diets and lack of essential fatty acids) decrease a BDNF.2 In fact, the relationship between BDNF and sugar gets even more interesting: low amounts of BDNF actually leads to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and even diabetes.3 This means that high sugar in the blood leads to low BDNF, and then low BDNF leads to a worsening of blood sugar control, which leads to high blood sugar, which leads to worse blood sugar control… and the cycle continues. You want as much BDNF around as possible if you want to learn, grow, and have normal brain functioning.
Interestingly, there is also a close association with poor blood sugar control (metabolic syndrome) and the severity of schizophrenia:

As a hint that how we live and what we eat have some effect on our moods, it has long been known that coronary heart disease and diabetes all are common in people with depression.8 This means that the same dietary conditions that create heart disease and diabetes also can lead to depression.  Anxiety, too, has been closely linked with sugar use in a number of studies.  [full article here]

"Sugar and the taste of sweet stimulate the brain by activating beta endorphin receptor sites. These are the same chemicals activated by heroin and morphine.

Fatty foods may cause cocaine-like addiction. Taking drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the so-called pleasure centers in the brain, [according to Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida.] Eventually the pleasure centers "crash," and achieving the same pleasure—or even just feeling normal—requires increasing amounts of the drug or food, says Kenny, the lead author of the study.   

"Recent behavioral tests in rats further back the idea of an overlap between sweets and drugs. Drug addiction often includes three steps. A person will increase his intake of the drug, experience withdrawal symptoms when access to the drug is cut off and then face an urge to relapse back into drug use. Rats on sugar have similar experiences. Researchers withheld food for 12 hours and then gave rats food plus sugar water. This created a cycle of binging where the animals increased their daily sugar intake until it doubled. When researchers either stopped the diet or administered an opioid blocker the rats showed signs common to drug withdrawal, such as teeth-chattering and the shakes. Early findings also indicate signs of relapse. Rats weaned off sugar repeatedly pressed a lever that previously dispensed the sweet solution." (Leah Ariniello, Brain Briefings, October 2003)
Full article here.
Click here for the most comprehensive article I've found on sugar and it's effects on mind and body.

Is it too much to ask to take responsibility for our bodies and live better?

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