If you've been to our office, then maybe you've noticed a few questions about sugar cravings when filling out symptom surveys. Do you have them? Are they mild, moderate, severe? Here's the thing about sugar... it's ADDICTIVE and cravings can be indicative of bigger problems at hand. Your relationship with sugar can tell your health practitioner a lot. That's why you'll see these questions on our hormone imbalance, adrenal fatigue, and candida questionnaire. We will also be sure to ask what your diet consists of during your first office visit.
Believe us, we know breaking a sugar addiction can be difficult. Some research has compared the addictive properties of sugar to those of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. So, in order to help you break up with sugar for good, let's look at some of the baggage sugar brings to your relationship.
Sugar and Candidiasis
Candida albicans is the lesser known name for the yeasty fungus that naturally lives throughout the body. When in balance with the other microbes and bacteria in the system, candida does not cause health concerns. However, a diet high in sugars and carbohydrates is a surefire way to end up with candidiasis or candida overgrowth. When candida overgrowth occurs, patients find themselves battling a slew of symptoms that can go ignored or misdiagnosed for years.
- weight gain
- foggy thinking
- aches and pains
- chronic fatigue
- abdominal discomfort, gas or bloating
- skin conditions, like eczema, psoriasis, hives, unidentifiable rashes or just itchy skin with no rash at all
- repeat vaginal infections, urinary tract infections or rectal itching
Sugar and Diabetes
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas gland. The purpose of insulin is to open channels in the cells all over the body and let glucose (sugar) get into the cell. It’s like a key that opens the doors to a cell and when the doors are open, the sugar goes inside. At this point, the sugar can be used to create energy and drive various processes in the cell. When this doesn't happen, the sugar or glucose collects outside the cells in the blood stream and creates the condition of insulin resistance and later, diabetes. The reason this mechanism fails can be the result of years of eating a diet too high in sugars or starches like bread, pasta, and potatoes (even if they are healthy). Over time, the cells will require more and more insulin until the pancreas cannot keep up with the demand. This is when diabetes occurs and medication is needed to work in conjunction with or in place of the body's insulin to get the sugar into the cells.
Sugar and Hormone Imbalance
Hormones are very important chemical messengers produced by one part of the body to tell other organs what to do and how to respond under certain conditions. Some of the most commonly discussed hormones include thyroid, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. While often times we address these hormones individually, the truth is, they are greatly impacted by the balance or imbalance of each other. For example, one who consumes too much sugar will see their body begin to store this extra "energy" in fat cells. Fat cells have an enzymes known to convert testosterone into estrogen. Therefore, obesity can contribute to high estrogen, low testosterone, and even too low thyroid hormones.
When blood sugar fluctuates a lot, like after eating a donut, bagel, or having a soda, insulin and cortisol fight to keep things in balance. Like we discussed earlier, insulin has the job to lower blood sugar by moving it into cells to be used for energy or stored for later. Cortisol moves sugar in the opposite direction. It takes sugar stored in the liver (glycogen) and puts it into the blood stream. To simplify, insulin lowers blood sugar and cortisol raises blood sugar.
Too much insulin will lower blood sugar too much which is called hypoglycemia. So to prevent this, when insulin goes up, cortisol goes up a little also. This is not to raise blood sugar, but to make sure the blood sugar stays in balance. Unhealthy, high-carb, high-sugar diets will cause lots of highs and lows in insulin and blood sugar throughout the day which can manipulate cortisol into an imbalance. In this type of situation, high cortisol levels decrease your thyroid hormones as well. Before long, all of those little messengers lose their ability to work together sending the needed information, at the right time, to keep the body properly functioning.
Quick Tips to Fight the Sugar Seduction
Remove temptation. Even if you have the best self-control, a cupboard full of cookies calling your name can be torture. If you are gearing up to leave sugar behind, purge your kitchen of anything that might tempt you to feed the addiction. Also, double check your grocery list and avoid the cookie/candy isles all together.
Start with soda. If you've fallen into the trap of indulging in daily sugary sodas or beverages, you are not alone. The FDA says about 47% of our added-sugar intake comes from beverages, not including milk or 100% fruit juice. Simply cutting out beverages with added sugar can make a huge impact.
De-stress. Unfortunately, there is something sweeter about sweets when you're feeling stressed. When a sugar craving hits, first recognize it may be because you're feeling wound up. Focus on your breathing and consciously decide you are in control. Take a quick walk, turn on your favorite music, watch a funny video, or chew a piece of gum. All of these are relaxing and better-for-you options that you can feel good about.
Eat regularly to keep a balanced blood sugar. Having a small meal or healthy snack every couple of hours can drastically reduce the urge to reach for something sweet.
Find a better alternative to the junk. After weaning off of processed sugar, junk food and sweets, many patients report a change in their taste buds. Suddenly, a banana is much sweeter and apples powdered in cinnamon have become a delicious dessert. The goal of breaking a sugar addiction isn't to NEVER have sugar again. It is simply a step you can take to ensure that you have more control over your well-being and quality of life. That being said, a square of organic dark chocolate can really hit the spot once you've reminded your brain and tongue what "sweet" really is!