Are You A Sugar Addict?

Having been a serious sugar addict and still struggling with my “addiction”, I have always found it strange that the medical profession does not recognize this problem. I would say the majority of my patients are sugar addicts too, although most only become aware of it when they try to stop it. So far all of us who have experienced the cravings and withdrawals when we stop, it is nice to know there are studies now documenting this, albeit in rats.

A Princeton University scientist, Professor Bart Hoebel 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 a craving for sweets as well.

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.

And 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% 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.

And finally, remember that 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.

What are the occasional “treats” that you eat? And do you find it hard to keep it occasional? Tell me and I’ll try to guide you through some simple tips and tricks!

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