When a person is standing outside their office on a cigarette break, it is clear that the person is addicted to cigarettes. When a person regularly consumes two desserts, and perhaps some sweets throughout the day, that person is said to have a “sweet-tooth”. However, more and more research over the past few years has confirmed that sugar addiction is a very real issue. And, sugar addiction, which is the root of food addiction, can be just as harmful to the body as a drug, tobacco, or alcohol addiction.
A 2013 study on lab rats at Connecticut College, found that rats were just as likely to over-indulge on high-fat, high-sugar Oreos, as they were to over-indulge on the drugs morphine or cocaine. In both cases, researchers tested the levels of a protein called c-Fos, which is a known marker of neuronal activation in the part of the brain that controls pleasure. After eating Oreos, c-Fos levels were significantly higher than in the rats who had taken either morphine or cocaine. Researchers believe that this is strong evidence to the case that “high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do”, which does make biological sense.
The human brain has been hard-wired since existence to indulge in high-fat/high-sugar foods whenever possible. This was a survival mechanism back when humans had to hunt for food, and bouts of famine were not uncommon. Thus, the brain knew to eat as much as possible of this type of food when it was available in order to sustain the body when it had no choice but to live off vegetables, or even roots or wild plants. Now, however, famine is not an issue for most people around the world – but high-fat/high-sugar foods still set off the same trigger in the brain to eat as much of these foods as they can when possible. And since high-fat/high-sugar foods are more available now than ever before – people develop an addiction, sourcing these types of foods at every chance they get.
American TV personality, Rosie O’Donnell, suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 2012, largely due to her obesity and unhealthy eating habits. For her, she claims, sugar is as addictive as heroin. “I walk past one of those kiosks selling newspapers and I’m like ‘There’s the Swedish Fish. They’re right there.’” she says. “Almost like alcoholics can’t go into a bar. They want to grab the bottle. I want to do that with the Swedish Fish.”
And that’s the problem that all sugar and food addicts face. Unlike heroin, sugar is everywhere you look. Even the bread you buy at the supermarket, the pasta sauce, cereal, yogurt – everything has added sugar. In fact, large companies have spent millions of dollars over years of research to find the exact fat and sugar content that will keep their consumers begging for more. Essentially, they are hooking their customers on their product – not much unlike a drug dealer handing out free bags of heroin to purposely hook a user and secure a full-time customer.
Keep in mind, however, that not all sugar is bad. In fact, the brain needs a daily dose of sugar in order to function properly. However, the sugar that the brain craves comes from naturally occurring sugars in fruit and whole grains for example. The kind of sugar that turns into obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, on the other hand, are added refined sugars. Studies show that regular overconsumption of added sugar dulls the brain’s mechanism to send the “full” flag, and instead encourages increased consumption of sugar.
Research has also shown links between overconsumption of sugar and diseases such as depression and dementia. It has also been linked to negative metabolism effects, impaired brain function, and can make you more susceptible to heart disease and even cancer. The chemical reactions that sugar sets off begin in the brain, and eventually cause damage to various parts of the body.
For those who are suffering from over-eating and sugar addiction, the only way to stop the addiction is by removing these types of food from the diet completely. Like a heroin addict who has to avoid all drugs and alcohol, a sugar or food addict must avoid all refined carbohydrates and sugars. And, surprisingly enough, when this happens the addict will experience signs of withdrawal. Headaches, nervousness, grouchiness, drowsiness and even weakness are not uncommon when someone abruptly stops the consumption of added sugars.
At The Cabin Chiang Mai, we are adept at treating those who have food and sugar addictions. These addictions are serious and can lead to many severe health complications if left untreated. If you or someone you know can’t stop eating despite negative consequences, please contact a professional.