Sugar High

I have to admit, as I transfer my old posts over from my old blog, I am enjoying reflecting back on some of these musings! Sugar is still something I struggle with, and this was an excellent reminder of why we should avoid it as much as possible.

sugarIf I were to challenge you to avoid added and refined sugars for 30 days, a few of you may think this to be no big deal. Personally, I have an admitted sugar addiction, and I initially found this entire concept down right frightening.

The word “addiction” is often thrown around loosely, but it seems to me that addictions are taken most seriously when they are associated with drugs and alcohol. The medical dictionary defines addiction as: “a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance.” The opens up a very broad spectrum of possibilities.

A brief look at the science behind some of this:

  • Substance addictions in particular are linked to generating responses from two major neurotransmitters in the brain: dopamine and serotonin. These two chemical messengers affect a wide variety of things in our bodies, such as eating, sleeping, emotions and sexual behaviors. 
  • Drugs like LSD and ecstasy contain molecules that fit together like puzzle pieces with serotonin receptors, giving them a boost (Hanson 2007). Alcohol has been linked to direct interference with the function of serotonin receptors and/or increasing the release of serotonin, depending on the level of consumption (Lovinger, 1990). Marijuana reacts with a neurotransmitter (cannabinoids) that controls cravings, which in turn regulate dopamine pathways. Smoking a cigarette can even generate serotonin and dopamine responses (Cann, 2012). 

What does this all have to do with sugar? Sugar is a substance that not only triggers a response from both serotonin and dopamine, but also gets a reaction from cannabinoids. This seems like pretty good evidence that certain foods not only make use feel good during consumption, but actually make us crave them when the cannabinoids are released. Even artificial sweeteners can generate these responses (Cann 2012).

We all know that being under the influence of drugs and alcohol can impair our physical and mental functions. Drugs and alcohol can damage our bodies, especially if consumed in mass quantities over long periods of time. Sugar is no different, especially over time.

So you finish reading this blog and maybe decide to take me up on the 30 day challenge. It’s time to go through your cupboards and fridge and rid yourself of the offensive substance, so you begin reading labels…and you realize that sugar is a sneaky substance, showing up in many things, under many different names.

Glucose, fructose, sucrose…all types sugars, and all used differently in the body. High fructose corn syrup is such an evil substance, it deserves its own blog, but I will settle today for honorable mention. When I cleaned out my fridge, I found this cheap, highly processed filler listed as the number two ingredient in my catsup. Really?!?!

Some quick information on the three sugars mentioned above:

  • Glucose: Guided by our insulin, it is sent either to the cells in the body for immediate energy use or condensed and stored as glycogen in the liver or muscles for later use.  
  • Fructose: Processed almost entirely by the liver, with evidence of this extreme load associated to increasing risks of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease over time. This fun stuff is also linked to giving your appetite a boost, rather than satiating or suppressing it.
  • Sucrose: (a.k.a. Table Sugar) is one part fructose and one part glucose.

(For excellent details and further descriptions, check out Mark Sisson’s blog, Mark’s Daily Apple.)

The consumption of sugar can have confusing and conflicting information. Genetically speaking, we are simply not meant to consume refined sugars, especially not in the mass quantities that are available and marketed to us today.

Say you come across some sugar cane on a hike and you decide to stop and curb your sweet tooth. You would first have to chop it down, removed the tough wood exterior, then cut the interior into manageable pieces. Twenty minutes or so later, you can finally chew on the pieces of pulp, extracting the small amount of sugar, before having to spit out the fibrous remains. This kind of put a new spin on the packages of “natural cane sugar”  filling the shelves.

fruitWe are only meant to consume sugar naturally found in fruits and vegetables, that comes alongside many additional nutrients, and not as a primary source of energy. An interesting fact to consider here regarding carbohydrates; All carbs are converted and used in the body as glucose (aka sugar). What did we just learn about sugar? It is not meant to be the primary source of our energy. Fat is the genetically preferred source of energy for the human species. (For another excellent writeup, check out this link to Mark Sisson’s info on fat at Mark’s Daily Apple.)

It all comes back to choices and not making things too complicated. If you stick to eating real food, nothing man made, and completely cut out refined carbs such as white rice, white pasta, and white bread, you will automatically be cutting out a ton of added sugar.

There is so much information available on this topic, and it is impossible for me to fit everything I want to share in just this one writeup. I want to conclude with a brief list of information I learned from Dr. Steve Czys, on of some of the more negative effects sugar consumption can have on our bodies:

  • Refined sugars elevate glucose, which raises insulin, which leads to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
  • Sugar destroys your immune system and fuels cancer.
  • Sugar is an anti-nutrient, providing insignificant amounts of vitamins and minerals and actually robbing your body of good nutrients. This causes diseases such as fatigue, ADD, ADHD, heart disease, diabetes, and cancers.

Until next time, thank you to all of my readers for sticking with me! Any requests or comments are welcome, I appreciate your insight.


Cann, Kevin. Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted To…Food? Posted Feb. 29, 2012 to: Retrieved March 5, 2012

Sisson, Mark (2010) The Definitive Guide To Sugar, Posted May 5, 2010 to Retrieved March 5, 2012

Hanson, Dirk (September 21, 2007) Addiction Inbox: Serotonin and Dopamine: A Primer. Retrieved March 9, 2012

Lovinger, David M. Ph.D. (1999) The Role of Serotonin in Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain.

Current Separations; University School of Medicine  Vanderbilt, Nashville, TN.  Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. Retrieved March 9, 2012

Question Everything!

breakfast_of_diet_pillsGrabbing an actual paper copy of a newspaper is a pretty rare thing for me in this technological age. One of the last ones I grabbed was for the sole purpose of cutting out an advertisement I had designed for my portfolio. Before I could even open it to begin searching for my ad, a front page headline grabbed my eye.

Does and miracle diet pill exist? A safe drug is elusive.”  (Click the link for the full story.)

This article jumped out at me primarily because of the fact that I personally don’t like pills, but I also found myself thinking; “of course a safe drug is elusive, it doesn’t exist.” The article touched on so many things I am passionate about in my own life, and I felt compelled to write about them.

Now, I originally wrote this as a letter to the editor, only to be hampered by a 250 word limit. I am slightly irritated with whomever set this limit – because they apparently do not know me at all. So I decided to postpone all other musings and share my thoughts about the crap that is making the front page.

The article first talks about how scientists have been trying for over a century to make a pill that will help someone lose weight without side effects, and that a government panel is urging the FDA to approve the latest miracle pill, Qnexa. It goes on to state that, “The recommendation raises hopes that the U.S. could approve the first anti-obesity drug in more than a decade,” also mentioning the challenges that come with figuring out how to “create a pill that fights fat in a variety of people.”

This waste of time and resources not only disturbs me, it completely blows my mind. Humans. Are. Animals. If someone want’s to lose weight, they simply need to look at the laws that govern all mammalian species; diet, environment and lifestyle.

In February of 2011, the Environmental News Network (ENN) published a story about heart disease being the number one killer of male gorillas in captivity. After heart failure claimed the life of a 21 year old gorilla at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in 2005, a team of researches decided to step in and take a look at the gorilla’s lifestyle. They found that the animals were being fed “bucket loads of high vitamin, high sugar, and high starch foods to make sure they got all their nutrients.”

Did these researchers recommend a pill to help the gorillas? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. They put the gorillas on a diet of foods that they would normally eat in the wild; their natural diet, consisting of things like romaine lettuce, green beans and flax seeds. This change yielded many positive results for all of the gorillas, one of which involved weight loss of 65 pounds each. I wonder how different our lives would be if we had spent a centuries worth of time and money teaching people how to eat and exercise in way that is appropriate for our specific species?

The article quotes a Dr. Mitchell Roslin, who said that “Having a drug for obesity would be like telling me you had a drug for the fever.” I had a moment of false hope, thinking this was beginning to be spoken in a language I understand.

Then Roslin stated that there can be millions of reasons, with “various underlying mechanisms” that result in obesity. This statement gave me pause. Roslin, as a chief of bariatric surgery, has chosen a career focused on weight loss surgery, and is likely very invested in the possible underlying causes of obesity. I am not doubting the Dr.’s intentions at all, but what if we can start with something much more simple? Science and hormones aside, I truly believe it can be as simple as this; Eat real food, take a walk, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are broken beyond repair.

I am not a scientist, or a doctor, but at one point in my life I was about 40 pounds overweight. I hated the way I looked, I started having anxiety attacks, and eventually became depressed. Doctors with good intentions looked at my family history of anxiety and depression, then put me on a variety of medications that came with side effects that left me wanting the anxiety attacks back. I finally decided I did not want to live my life like that. I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about natural relief and what I put into my body.

What I have since learned is that the underlying causes of these ailments were not in my genetics. Our genes are designed to seek homeostasis, they adapt and improve over time, provided they are getting what they need. The causes were simply ignorance and poor lifestyle choices; Both of which I have complete control over and neither of which were fixed by the plethora of little white pills prescribed to me.

Dr. David Katz, of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center is quoted talking about how throughout history, calories were often hard to come by, and that “We have no defenses against overeating because we never needed them before.” I would love to know what contextual information is surrounding this statement and what type of research he is basing it off of.

steakWhat I do know is that there is quite a bit or research that shows the human body has several defenses against overeating, as long as you are eating real, whole food. In his opening to The Protein Debate,  “The Evolutionary Basis for the Therapeutic Effects of High Protein Diets” Colorado State University professor, Loren Cordain, tells us that consuming dietary protein is one of these defenses. There are three primary macronutrients, fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Of these three, protein causes the greatest release of an appetite reducing hormone found in the gut, called Peptide YY. It also simultaneously improves sensitivity to leptin (yet another appetite controlling-body weight regulating hormone) in the central nervous system. Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but if I had to choose between a big juicy steak and and a pill that may come with nausea, headaches and vomiting…I am picking the steak every time.

Not necessarily wanting to counter my own argument, but the human body is complicated. While it does adapt, there are things that can happen, such as leptin resistance, that really can make it harder for someone to lose weight. I believe it is important to address these issues, while still applying our personal choices. Does this mean you just give up and keep living the same lifestyle that got you here? I sincerely hope not. Start with something simple. Recognize that sugar is an addiction, and that eating just one cookie really might be a bad idea, especially in the beginning. Moderation is not always key, and in our society it may actually be helping your metabolic disorder.

The article ends with mention of the 1930’s failed drug, dinitrophenol, that increased metabolism, but also caused things like “fever, swelling and deadly toxicity…” The Food and Drug Administration was then established as a line of defense against untested drugs in 1938.

What I really wish was mentioned in this article are the extreme changes in WHAT we are eating that have taken place, just in the last century alone. In the beginning of our existence, humans used to have to expend energy to hunt, gather and prepare real food. There were no supermarkets with carts to carry our food for us, not to mention a selection of food mixed in with an even larger selection of chemicals masquerading as food. Think back to even just 50 years ago when there was no such thing as organic, grass-fed or free-range. Why, you might ask? Because EVERYTHING was organic, and animals were fed their natural diets. In the end, it is simply our choices that matter the most.

broccoliPicture a big bowl of broccoli sitting next to a big bowl of chicken nuggets. We all know the broccoli is the healthy selection, but who will actually make the choice to eat the broccoli? If you do, and proceed to eat the whole bowl…well I would be shocked to find one person that has ever gotten fat because they ate too much broccoli.

Personally, I am confused as to why the chicken had to be processed down, chemically altered, breaded and fried into a nugget, when the thigh or breast was fine just how it started.

To those of you who have put up with me long enough to get to this point, I invite you to take control of your own life. Educate your to make better choices, and don’t just go on a diet, change your lifestyle. Give yourself a chance to not just survive this life, but to thrive and enjoy everything it has to offer. Maybe the next time a headline about a diet pill grabs your attention on the front page, you will be asking different questions.