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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sugar Addiction?

We've discuss food addictions before, and when I saw this article it addressed some of the basic problems when we talk about how food can effect a change in the brain that can contribute to addiction:

This article suggests that fructose, a type of sugar derived from corn syrup and an ingredient in most processed foods we eat, creates a chemical imbalance that can lead to addiction:

Fructose is easily converted to fat in the body, and scientists have found that it also suppresses the action of a vital hormone called leptin.
"Leptin goes from your fat cells to your brain and tells your brain you've had enough, you don't need to eat that second piece of cheesecake," says Dr Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist.
He says when the liver is overloaded with sugars, leptin simply stops working, and as a result the body doesn't know when it's full.
"It makes your brain think you're starving and now what you have is a vicious cycle of consumption, disease and addiction. Which explains what has happened the world over," he says.
Is this addiction?  Well, no, not really.  If you are hungry because your body is telling you you are hungry, that is different from addiction.  An addict will eat even when he is not hungry.  What is being described here is 'abuse' of food rather than food addiction.
Someone with a food addiction is eating not because he or she is hungry for food as described about, but because of the endorphine affect:
David Kessler, the ex-head of the US government's most powerful food agency, the Food and Drug Administration, believes sugar - together with fat and salt - appeals to our brains in the same way as addictive substances.
"It gives you this momentary bliss," Mr Kessler says. "So when you're eating food that is highly hedonic, it sort of takes over your brain."

What he means by 'hedonic' is that it contains substances which the body, in response to the substance, releases endorphine into the brain.  Endorphine causes a 'relaxation response' which in turn causes the release of dopamine:
Dopamine is 'addictive' in the sense that it causes the numbing effect addicts are looking for.  Engaging in too much endorphine-releasing activities can lead to an addiction.  Dopamine is not really related to hunger at all except during real starvation, but it would not be released normally until food is eaten.

However, if you are eating a diet where endorphine-activating foods are limited, and then you eat endorphine-activating foods, then you are going to notice a marked difference in how the food makes you feel.  Most of us experience this with a 'rich dessert' or a high-quality meal.
A food addict will chase this endorphine-dopamine rush.  This is often done with quantity rather than quality, which is why food addicts become obese (as if that is a big surprise there).  The point of the article is that fructose suppresses the hormones that lead to this endorphine process, and so the addict has to eat far more fructose-laden foods in order to get the 'high' he craves.
Our perception of the world is largely governed by these chemical processes, and so we must be aware of them and what is going on around us.  We must measure our world not in terms of how we feel about it, but the empirical evidence.  When we see our bodies bloated and distended, then we should realize that we have a problem.
If we are chasing a feeling, we should be doubly concerned.
If you go to an AA or NA meeting, you will notice cookies and sugar often consumed by addicts.  That's no accident: many alcoholics will often have profound cravings for sugar, which is related to these effects described above.  While sugar might be a helpful temporary fix, it is important for addicts to be aware of their food consumption in sobriety.
Sugar might help you deal with a particularly difficult craving episode, but one should exercise caution that the disease does not change modes and start chasing a food high rather than a drink high.

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