Consumers in developed countries enjoy access to luxuries we don’t even realize are luxuries. Our food, as an example, is quick and easy, and even our water comes in neat little bottles. But with these luxuries come drawbacks. Our health, as a whole, is suffering. We have cancer, we have Type 2 diabetes and we are plagued with obesity.
Human as we are, we seek to find the source of these diseases. Artificial flavors and genetic modification have been targeted, as have simple ingredients like gluten and beef. But though blame shifts from year to year, one disorder remains at the forefront – sugar addiction.
Processed foods and sugary drinks have certainly made our lives more convenient, but is sugar addiction a deadly pandemic? In this article, we’ll answer the following questions and more:
• Is Sugar a Drug?
• Is Sugar Addictive?
• How is Sugar Made?
• Why is Sugar Bad For You?
• Does Sugar Make you Hyper?
• Will Sugar Make Kids Hyper?
• Does Sugar Feed Cancer?
Is Sugar a Drug?
The classification of sugar as a drug has been debated for some time. The substance is known, of course, to cause diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and is even linked to cancer. But is it addictive, or a drug?
The FDA defines addiction as
Characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving.
In reality, sugar meets almost all of these criteria. Sugar addicts do continue to use sugar without regard for the ill effects it has on the body. Users do compulsively consume sugar. And sugar cravings are real, physiological effects of the drug.
That having been said, studies have shown that when a user consumes sugar, his body releases massive amounts of dopamine. Dopamine is naturally occurring in the body, and it signals the brain’s pleasure center. Dopamine is also released during other activities like sex, exercise and childbirth.
But the release of dopamine when consuming sugar causes a user to correlate the activity with a sense of gratification. It also begins a series of side effects, including loss of control, cravings and an increased tolerance to sugar.
Is Sugar Addictive?
Sugar is an addictive substance. As mentioned, it triggers physiological effects in the body and the brain. In fact, the consumption of sugar stimulates the same brain activity as use of cocaine or heroin.
Now, that’s not to say that sugar is as harmful or addictive as cocaine or heroin, but it may give you an indication of just how powerful the cravings for sugar may be for a user. Sugar does affect the brain, and once the cycle is begun, a sugar addict has a difficult time giving up the substance because of the chemical (and psychological) reactions it can cause.
Why Is Sugar Addictive?
Sugar addiction is a very tricky subject. Addiction, as a general rule, doesn’t carry “levels” of addiction. Either you’re addicted to a substance or you’re not. But everyone, at one point, has experienced a sugar craving. Everyone has eaten just one more cupcake despite the knowledge that it’s not really a good idea. And everyone has craved a soda at one point or another. But does that make an addict?
Over the years, there have been a handful of studies which seek to show a link between cravings and deficiencies. That is to say, it’s thought that your body craves what it needs. As an example, if you really want a steak, you may be experiencing an iron deficiency.
Cravings for sugar can be caused by a number of factors, one of which is a calorie deficiency. If you’ve had a tough day at work, and didn’t get a chance to take a lunch, chances are you’ll be feeling pretty lousy by the end of the day. You’ve got a calorie deficiency, and low blood sugar levels. You’re feeling tired, irritable and even dizzy or nauseous. What’s the easiest way to cure it? Grab a candy bar.
But sugar addiction is more than an occasional craving. Many studies have been carried out on the subject, including one by Fullerton University. In this study, it was shown that sugar addiction is possibly genetic, and that the children of alcoholic parents often become addicted. There are genetic markers which are shared between sugar addicts and alcoholics, bulimics and the obese.
In short, sugar is addictive because it causes a chemical and pleasurable occurrence in the human body, which is repeatable by continued use. It is also shown that genetics is a contributor to sugar addiction.
Understanding Sugar as a Drug
Unfortunately, we live in a society that’s always pointing fingers. We rush to justify the behavior of ill mannered kids by diagnosing them with alphabet soup. We treat the joint and muscle pain caused by obesity with fibromyalgia medication rather than prescribing a weight management program.
Because we’ve masked underlying issues with fancy prescription drugs for so long, it’s now difficult to distinguish a real disorder from the “Affliction of the Month.”
But do understand, sugar addiction is a real problem for some, and we should treat it as a disorder. Let’s look at a few characteristics of the substance itself.
How is Sugar Made?
Sugar, as you probably know, is derived from natural sources. The sugar cane is a plant indigenous to southern and southeastern Asia. Hybrids of the plant exist, but they’re all origins of processed sugar.
To make natural sugar, the sugar cane is processed one of several ways. Sugar is extracted from the cane, and is used immediately in local areas. Or it can be extracted and then refined, which is the process that removes molasses and gives sugar the clean white appearance that you see in stores. Cultivating and refining beet sugar is an alternative to this two step process.
Why is Sugar Bad For You?
Sugar itself isn’t bad for you. Overconsumption of sugar is what will cause ill effects. Again, there’s no such thing as “levels” of addiction, and everyone eats sugar.
But in large quantities, sugar is extremely detrimental to your health. Sugar causes obesity, which in turn contributes to cancer and a host of other ailments. Overconsumption of sugar also causes Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes, which can cause heart disease, kidney damage, stroke and death. Sugar can cause hypertension, increasing your risk of heart attack. And it’s also been shown to negatively impact brain function.
Does Sugar Make You Hyper?
When you eat sugar, your body will break it down into two components, fructose and glucose. The liver metabolizes fructose, unless there’s too much of it. In this case, the liver turns fructose to fat.
But glucose is the primary chemical that your body and cells use to create energy. As you consume more sugar, your body receives more glucose, giving you a seeming burst of energy. The downside of this is that following overconsumption of sugar, your body will also experience an abnormally high level of glucose in the bloodstream. The result is the fatigue that’s known as a “sugar crash.”
While sugar certainly will give you energy, it won’t necessarily make you hyper. In fact, overconsumption of sugar will cause fatigue and lethargy.
Does Sugar Make Kids Hyper?
Kids’ bodies process sugar in the same way that adults’ do. So it stands to reason that as sugar won’t make adults hyper, neither will it give a kid too much energy.
Even as far back as 1994, studies have proven that if a kid is hyper, it’s usually not due to an abundance of sugar. Parents and caregivers (and the occasional playground bystander) are quick to blame poor behavior on factors other than poor parenting choices. This has perpetuated the myth of a correlation between sugar and hyperactivity.
Again, sugar will give kids energy. But sometimes if a kid is “hyper,” he’s just being a kid.
Does Sugar Feed Cancer?
Sugar doesn’t directly feed cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, sugar has never been proven to cause or encourage the growth of cancer. However, as we mentioned, cells do depend on glucose for energy, and this includes cancer cells.
However, we’ll note that overconsumption of sugar can cause a host of other illnesses, and one of these is obesity. Obesity does increase the risk of cancer, including endometrial, liver, kidney, pancreatic, breast and ovarian cancers.
So while sugar isn’t known to make cancer worse or to spread cancer, obesity will. Sugar addiction is a direct cause of obesity.
Understanding Sugar Addiction
Like many other addiction, sugar addiction is both psychological and physiological. The human body processes sugar in a way that causes both an immediate sense of gratification and a long term dependency.
Sugar addiction, however, is difficult to identify. We all eat, and we all eat processed sugars. But in the same way that it takes an enormous amount of willpower for an alcoholic to drink just one beer, it takes extreme self control for a sugar addict to eat just one cookie.
Sugar addiction does cause weight gain, and there’s a stigma attached to obesity. Addicts who have experienced significant weight gain may be ostracized, bullied, and are at a higher risk of suicide than their normal weight counterparts.
Sugar Addiction Studies
We’ve talked about several studies throughout this article, and they all point to the same conclusion: sugar addiction is a valid disease, afflicting many users. It should be treated as such. The body processes sugar in a way which affects a user physically, causing long term damage to the body. The substance will also affect a user psychologically, and treatment may require counseling or other intervention methods.
How to Tell if you are Addicted to Sugar
Sugar addiction may be difficult to diagnose, as we all eat sugars in some form. But as with any addiction, there are signs to watch for.
Does your sugar consumption interfere with your daily activities? For example, is it causing you to become overweight, or to feel sluggish and fatigued? If you’re no longer enjoying activities because of the side effects of sugar consumption, you might be addicted.
Secondly, if you find yourself hiding your sugar consumption from others, you may be addicted to the substance. Now, hiding a box of cookies from your husband doesn’t constitute addiction. But hiding the fact that you ate three boxes by lunch may be an indicator.
If you are eating sugar even if you’re not hungry, you may want to monitor your eating habits. Sugar addicts frequently overindulge despite having just eaten a meal, or not being hungry.
Finally, if you’re dependent upon the “rush” that you experience after consuming sugar to overcome other, negative feelings, you may be addicted to sugar.
Sugar Addiction Withdrawals
Like withdrawal from some drugs, withdrawal from sugar use can be painful and debilitating. You may feel tired, irritable, nauseous or depressed. Your muscles may ache or you may experience weakness. Headaches and anxiety are also symptoms of sugar withdrawal.
As with any other addiction, it’s best to seek the help of a professional before trying to curb any addiction. Specialists exist who can assist you while ensuring that you experience minimal side effects of sugar addiction withdrawal.
Is Sugar More Addictive Than Cocaine and Meth?
We noted that sugar and hard drugs have similar effects on the human brain. But that’s not to say that sugar is more addictive than cocaine or meth.
The trouble with sugar addiction is this: you literally can not stop eating. Obviously abstaining from food altogether is going to cause far worse effects than a reduction in sugar consumption. And because most of the foods we eat contain both raw and refined sugars, it’s impossible to quit cold turkey.
So while sugar is less addictive than cocaine or meth, it can be, in some cases, more difficult to quit. It’s always best to get the guidance of a doctor or addiction specialist before you try to handle any addiction, and this is inclusive of sugar.