MY ADDICTION WITH SUGAR 🍨 🍰
I am in my kitchen slumped over my laptop blogging. 👨🏾💻It's been a long day and I sort of just want to relax and do nothing. This is the part of my day when I usually do something I am not proud of; I snack. I am currently debating whether I should drink a Vanilla Coke or partake of my self mandated, "drink more green tea" initiative. I am proud to say that the tea won out this evening. Unfortunately, I don't think my brain is happy about it. (See my typical blogging setup below. The green tea is in that cup.)
I am glad to say that I have acquired a lot more self control over the years and didn't partake of that Vanilla Coke. I can always drink one when I want to and maybe tomorrow I might but for now I am going to stick with the green tea. I am proud of myself for not giving into my craving, but at the same time, I know that sugar addiction isn't something that should be taken lightly. I was previously addicted to sugar and I still struggle with it. The fact that I have Vanilla Codke in my pantry is a testament to that fact. Addiction is a serious mental health issue, regardless of the type of addiction that is presented.
At the height of my addiction, I was drinking about 5 canned sodas a day and maybe some candy bars or some other sugary sweets. Who here loves gummy bears? Anyone? This unhealthy habit of eating sugary foods often left me feeling: sluggish, tired, mentally drained, wired, depressed, and frustrated. I had little value for the adage that says, "you are what you eat." Let me explain why it is so important to get that concept into your mind and enforce it like a general in charge of an army.
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YOUR SORT OF LIKE GODZILLA, BUT ITS COOL
Many people have watched the Japanese monster franchise "Godzilla". To anyone unfamiliar with it, this lizard based monster, that towers about 120 feet, comes out of the water to fight other monsters. It usually destroys major parts of cities in the wake of the fight. In the words of Ken Watanabe, "let them fight."
Ok, so the comparison isn't perfect, but the idea is still valid. As you live your life, your body is constantly breaking down the cells that make you, you. It's like there are billions of Godzillas running around your city, destroying everything. Just like the people in the movies that have to rebuild after the devastation, your body has to rebuild itself. But how does your body build itself up again after it's been torn down?
First to digest food, your stomach uses gastric acids and enzymes to break down the things you consume. Food that you eat has different nutritional value. Some things have more fiber, protein, sugar, etc... In a article by U.S. National Library of Medicine they say that, "Gastric juice is made up of digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and other substances that are important for absorbing nutrients – about 3 to 4 liters of gastric juice are produced per day. The hydrochloric acid in the gastric juice breaks down the food and the digestive enzymes split up the proteins."
Secondly (I'm being very broad with these steps) proteins and other nutrients eventually find their way into your blood, which then gets delivered to other organs, muscles, etc...for consumption. Then those body systems use the nutrients to build and replace any cells that were destroyed. Once again, day to day, you are constantly breaking down your cells and making new ones. Your body needs proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids to build these cells.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ADDICTION? 🤨
Some chemicals or substances that you put into your body can be classified as addictive or nonaddictive. Nonaddictive chemicals are things that are neutral and don't cause addictive behaviors, although they can become addictive if not kept in check. The thing is that addictive and nonaddictive chemicals enter into your body the same ways. They go through the digestion & consumption phases outlined above. Your body metabolizes and uses them.
In an article by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, they mention that "most drugs of abuse directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. When activated at normal levels, this system rewards our natural behaviors. Overstimulating the system with drugs, however, produces euphoric effects, which strongly reinforce the behavior of drug use—teaching the user to repeat it."
(Download the PDF here) That's where we see the biggest difference between an addictive and nonaddictive chemical or substance.
The nature of addictive chemicals or substances often vary depending on which one you are referring to, but lets just discuss a couple of them.
Caffeine 😱(No Way!) - "Caffeine is a methylxanthine alkaloid found in the seeds, nuts, or leaves of a number of plants native to South America and East Asia that is structurally related to adenosine and acts primarily as an adenosine receptor antagonist with psychotropic and anti-inflammatory activities." This chemical relaxes smooth muscles like your intestines, blood vessels, and bladder. They additionally stimulate cardiac muscles and do a host of other things. Caffeine is the stuff that keeps you up at night and can make you agitated. Please try not to drink to much.
Sugar 🤤(So yummy) - Ignoring the technical jargon, sugar is a naturally occurring chemical found all over the place. Your body even makes it. Commercially we refer to it as sugar, but sucrose or saccharose are the traditional names. It is a combination of glucose and fructose. It tastes sweet and lets face it, it makes a lot of things taste better. This chemical is highly addictive and can cause a lot of major health problems if consumed in large amounts and regularly.
Cocaine 🤮 🤪 (No good) - Cocaine is an alkaloid ester extracted from the leaves of plants including coca...Cocaine binds to the dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine transport proteins and inhibits the re-uptake of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine into pre-synaptic neurons. This leads to an accumulation of the respective neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft and may result in increased postsynaptic receptor activation." - National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=446220, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/446220 (accessed June 14, 2018).
For a more comprehensive list of addictive chemicals (my list is very general and only has 3) do a google search and you will find a lot of addictive chemicals or potentially addictive ones. Now I'm sure that you were aware that certain drugs, chemicals, substances, compounds, whatever...were addictive, but addiction isn't just gauged by things you eat. Your body creates dopamine and other chemicals that cause you to seek out addictive behaviors.
What's addictive behavior?
What is addictive behavior? American Society of Addictive Medicine re-defined what addiction was in August 2011. Here is the entire article (PDF). They say that, "addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors." That's a mouthful and the long definition is even more wordy. But I think the thing that is a major takeaway is that addiction is a "chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry." I think that's important because our brain health often impacts a lot of our life. Our brain is our CEO and if it's sick, it needs help.
Have you ever met someone that was addicted to something? As I said at the outset, I used to be addicted to sugar. I would often ignore logical arguments that I presented to myself and that others offered me in regards to my addiction. "Ryan you shouldn't drink so many sweet beverages, they aren't good for you." I didn't want to change my diet or the pleasure that it released to my brain. Dopamine is a very powerful chemical and to get more of it, I found myself repeating behaviors that just weren't doing me any favors. This in turn fostered other addictive behavior and habits. It can definitely be a downward spiral towards some negative consequences.
Watch the clip of Lamar Odom, one of the NBA big men that played for various teams like the Heat, Clippers, and Lakers. Watching the clip makes me feel nervous but it's a good reminder for me.
In the description of the YouTube video, Daniel Amen a physiatrist of the Amen clinic and national book bestseller, voices his concern over the amount of sugar that Lamar consumes. (Amen runs a clinic to help treat people with addiction and other mental health related issues by using SPECT imaging.) Remember that addiction is a disease of the brain and if left unchecked, can cause some long term problems. Because addictive behavior can be transferred, addiction of any kind, should be taken very seriously.
What happened to Lamar? This article is not in any way being used to downgrade or belittle the life of this NBA player, but I want to warn of the dangers that addiction can have, even when the addiction seems rather trivial. As far as I am aware, he never cultivated Type 2 diabetes, which would seem the most predictable outcome for someone consuming large amounts of sugar.
In an article by US Weekly Lamar opens up about what happened to him. "I was in a very dark place and very confrontational. I wasn’t trying to repair my marriage; I was just trying to get high. My life was all about drugs at that point. It probably helped the end of my career come along a little faster because drugs killed my drive to want to train and be in shape." He had lost his marriage, and "My daughter gave me the ultimatum to go (to rehab). She said, “Pops, you get help or I won’t talk to you.”" He mentions in an article by Daily Mail that he wasn't using cocaine util he was 24 and the usage got worse as he lost a child. (Do a google search if you want to learn more about it) Now the thing that is scary about this, to me, is that I don't know if the sugar was a substitute for the drugs or a precursor to them? Was it part of the over-all addictive patterned behavior that had already manifested itself long ago or did it show up later in life?
The lesson is clear for me, regardless of the answer to those questions. Addiction is something that needs to be addressed and rained in. Whether that's going to rehab, changing diet or reducing addictive behaviors, addiction should be addressed as soon as it becomes evident. (The addiction does not need to be based on food consumption but can be anything that causes addictive behavior.)
SIDE NOTE: SUGAR MIGHT CAUSE CANCER? 🧐
Everything causes cancer these days, or so it seems. (Insert eye roll here 😒"Okay, here we go.") Every time I listen to the news, it seems like some new study has implicated some other food as a culprit of cancer. It makes sense that food consumption should be considered as a cause of cancer. When you eat something, your body breaks down the chemicals and uses them. This happens regardless if the chemicals are good or bad. So it didn't surprise me to stumble on research that implicated sugar as a possible cause of cancer.
Glycolytic (breakdown of glucose) activation could be the catalyst of oncogenic events. An oncogenic event is when healthy cells begin to convert into cancerous ones. Overexpression, (over-production of a substance, in this case cells) in turn, spreads through the body. In a joint study by Yasuhito Onodera, Jin-Min Nam, and Mina J. Bissell, they explore a 3D modeling of breast tissue in which the activation of cancer cells are signaled by the uptake of glucose. They write, "forced increases in glucose uptake and metabolism activated a number of such signaling pathways involved in oncogenesis, leading to a malignant-like phenotype in nonmalignant breast cells."
Their conclusion was that glucose could be a strong catalyst for signaling of cancerous cells and the suppression of glucose could restrict the signaling process in cancer. Of course this study was done with a 3D model, not a tissue culture so it still needs real life application, but the implications are of interest.
WHY AM I WRITING ABOUT THIS?
I bring this up because your brain loves sugar and sugar is so easy to get your hands on. Modern foods and drinks have huge amounts of it and I don't think that people are aware of how much damage sugar can do. I'm not saying that if you like sugar, you will fall into a world of substance abuse and addiction. I'm not saying that if you like sugar and consume it regularly, that you will develop diabetes. But reducing sugar in your diet can be a game changer. It can be the diet choice that takes you from zero to hero. It can be the thing that gets you out of the house after a long day at work. It can be the thing that makes you feel more levels of focus and dedication to your life. By reducing my sugar intake I have seen some major benefits:
I have more sustained energy throughout the day.
I don't get depressed (I guess that can be about outlook on life, but it seems like a big coincidence that my mood has been neutral to happy since reducing my sugar intake)
I tend to not crash, unless I consume sugar
I feel more focused
I eat healthier in general because I try my best to avoid, not sugar, but more specifically processed sugars.
I exercise a lot more (Yes that is about choice but when I am not tired, I tend to feel good enough to exercise.)
Additionally, addiction is something that I have wanted to write about for some time. It impacts many people on many levels. Even in the stories of Sherlock Holmes, the fictitious detective uses cocaine to numb his senses. I always wanted to go into his world and ask him to stop because it can be such an addictive and destructive substance. If you are dealing with addiction of any kind, please take this call to action seriously. Speak with a healthcare professional if you feel that your addiction is consuming your life and know that the thing that is causing the addiction is endangering your health. Avoid belittling the problem like I did with my addiction to sugar. Take action now and you will be better off for it.
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National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=2519, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/2519 (accessed June 13, 2018).
Increased sugar uptake promotes oncogenesis via EPAC/RAP1 and O-GlcNAc pathways Yasuhito Onodera, … , Jin-Min Nam, Mina J. Bissell J Clin Invest. 2014;124(1):367-384. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI63146.
U.S. National Library of Medicine - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072488/ - (Menche N. (ed.) Biologie Anatomie Physiologie. Munich: Urban & Fischer/ Elsevier; 2012.Pschyrembel W. Klinisches Wörterbuch. Berlin: De Gruyter; 2014.Schmidt R, Lang F, Heckmann M. Physiologie des Menschen: mit Pathophysiologie. Heidelberg: Springer; 2011.)