Sugar, for me, is highly addictive and I was particularly addicted to chocolate. Of course, I didn’t understand any of this at the time but I now know that the reward system in the brain is stimulated by sugar in the same way as it is stimulated with drugs like cocaine and even heroin. This means that when I eat sugar, the neurotransmitters (dopamine and opioids; in the brain’s “reward system”) are released which makes me feel good. This is why I feel good when I eat sugary stuff. Soon after eating sugar, your sugar levels then drop to below their initial level leaving you feeling depleted. This is when your body thinks that it wants more to compensate which explains why I always wanted more and why it is so addictive. Researchers have even shown this addictive nature of sugar on the behaviour of rats and observed craving, bingeing, and withdrawal behaviours (Avena, Rada, and Hoebel; 2008).
I was aware of the fact that once I started to eat sugary foods, e.g., at 7:00 p.m., I would want more of it an hour later and more of it after that until I went to bed. I would have cravings for something sweet, which, at times, would completely take hold of my brain until I gave into it. These are all signs of my addiction. However, sugar is not good for me. It plays no role in maintaining my body and can clog up liver function. The liver stores excess sugar as fat when we eat too much of it, and, as is the case in too much alcohol, can lead to liver disease. Most of us know about the links between sugar and diabetes but sugar has also been linked to a number of illnesses including higher risk of depression (Westover and Marangell; 2002) and heart disease (Fuller, Shipley, Rose, Jarrett, and Keen; 1980).
So, after experiencing a sugary “high”, we are more likely to want to repeat the pleasurable experience, especially as a reward, for example, after a hard day at work. Being bombarded by advertisements (the advertising companies know the psychology behind it too!) only makes it harder to ignore and easier for us to grab a packet of sugar/chocolate treats on the way home. However, the more of this white substance that we consume, the harder it is to achieve that “high” again. Yes, I AM still talking about sugar here! Our brains adapt to higher levels of sugar and compensate by releasing less dopamine/opioid neurotransmitters so the only way to achieve the “feeling good” factor is to eat even more of it. Just like other drugs, our brains become adapted to more and more of it.
Realising that I was a “sugar junkie”, I decided to give it up and in my desperate attempt to avoid sugar, I then chose diet versions of everything instead. To me, this meant low fat versions too. I would read “diet” or “low fat” on the label and think that it meant it’s good. Little did I realise that many low fat products actually contained even more sugar! Many diet products contain aspartame and most diet drinks contain aspartame. So is aspartame ok?
Like I have said before in a previous blog, I used to drink a fair amount of diet, carbonated drinks thinking that I was being healthier drinking the “diet” version! When I had my MS event, which left me visually impaired, and with left side weakness and hemi-neglect, I later started on a high fat, low carbohydrate (HFLC) way of eating. I don’t call it a diet because I have never succeeded on any “diet” that I have been on and I just don’t do diets anymore! So, I continued this way of eating for over a year, and experiencing huge improvements in my health, I decided to drink some diet carbonated drink one evening to see if it would have any effect on me. It tasted different to how I remembered it and was extremely sweet and artificial tasting.
However, the next morning, when I woke up, I noticed immediately that I could not feel my left hand fingertips again. Can you believe that? A few glasses of diet carbonated drink on Friday evening actually caused me to lose the feeling of my fingertips again by the following morning. My brain felt sluggish and as though it was in some thick fog again. I couldn’t think straight at all, and my left leg felt as though it was not properly “connected”. That’s how it feels when my leg is not receiving the signals from my brain to move. It is like the leg is not plugged in and is slow, doesn’t respond, and is heavy.
As I continued back on the HFLC way of eating, the feeling in my fingers returned again in the following few days, but it was fascinating at how this diet drink had had such an immediate effect. I have since tried other foods with aspartame in them and have concluded that aspartame has negative affects on my brain causing me to lose the feeling in my fingertips, stops the connection with my left leg, and causes my brain to become foggy and unable to think straight. I even found one brand of diet drink that didn’t contain aspartame and drank that from time to time. On one occasion though I bought the wrong bottle by mistake and the next morning, found again that I had lost the feeling in my fingers. At the shock of this, I looked at the bottle and then realised that I had got the wrong bottle by mistake. Likewise, I bought some mints that I thought were aspartame free but soon had the same affect on my brain and, again, when I looked at the ingredients, they contained aspartame. I have also, on occasion, had a sugary treat and found the same thing. My fingertips lose their feeling, my brain can’t think straight and my leg loses its connection. So what have I concluded?
I have concluded that sugar is not good for me; my MS symptoms and my brain function deteriorate almost immediately. I have concluded that aspartame is not good for me either; again my MS symptoms and my brain function deteriorate almost immediately. Sugar and aspartame are like poison to me.
Next time, I shall talk about more about the high fat, low carb/ ketogenic way of eating. If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!
Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 32(1), 20–39. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019
Fuller, J.H., Shipley, M.J., Rose, G., Jarrett, R.J., & Keen, H. (1980). Coronary Heart Disease Risk and Impaired Glucose Tolerance; The Whitehall Study. The Lancet, 315, 8183, 1373-1376.
Westover & Marangell (2002) A Cross-National Relationship Between Sugar Consumption and Major Depression? Depression and Anxiety, The Official Journal of ADAA, 16, 3, 118-129.