It’s one of the most addictive substances on the planet, eight times that of cocaine. Forty of forty-three lab rats chose the sugar water over the cocaine water, the drug that dominated the headlines for a decade. It’s a metabolic and neurotoxin responsible for at least a dozen mostly terminal illnesses. We get our kids started on it early, it’s even in most baby formulas, and it quickly works its magic in the mind and the gut, leading many of us by pre-teen years capable of outlandish daily consumption and tolerance. Though the greater addiction recovery community refuse its inclusion in abstinence from mood and mind altering substances, and many in the medical community would have you believe it’s a simple calorie, the sugar industry* has done a wonderful job keeping the light off sugar and the dopamine surge it produces.
As with most ails we sit in the dark. Prone to blaming genetics rather than taking responsibility for social patterns and cultural norms that continue to keep us sick, and thus lining the pockets of both the producer and the provider of the cure. The reality of stressed parents with a two week maternity leave turning understandably so to microwave meals and cheap treats to console. The young human requires years of constant companionship–the safety and security required for the mind to wire–yet few are afforded, or can afford, such luxuries. Surely this can’t have anything to do with the search for that taste we evolved, now hard-wired, to seek out, nor anything to do with a a culture which appraises the rise of stock over the rise of child.
The genetic proposition takes all industry, all corporate climate, all lobbyists, their lobbies and the politicians they take golfing, indeed the entire model of Western Capitalism sans social compact off the hook. For if every ill is a product of poor genetics we need never examine our lifestyles, our priorities, our “needs” and values. We need never consider the importance of the child’s neurological development once outside the womb. Keep blaming ourselves, and keep the culprits rich.
Remember Michelle Obama’s LET’S MOVE campaign? Once she partnered with Coca-Cola Co., Craft, and Nabisco it became all about personal responsibility. However, the LET’S MOVE campaign was initially a call-to-arms, as it were, a call-to-action directed at those producing our food. The industry and it’s lobby is terrified of our search for truth, outside devious sugar industry funded studies, akin to the pharmaceutical industry’s deviously deceptive funded studies on cannabis, ibogaine, etc. The big difference being one kills and one cures. The difference is one appears on the dinner plate while one remains outlawed in the shadows. The same approach taken to both substances, ensure a future for both industries. In years past we were told the fat content of foods was killing us. Later it was the carbs, the egg yolk then the white. Anything but the highly addictive drug and metabolic toxin known as, amongst a dozen other names, sugar.
My daughter was around two years old, her sister seven, when they came back from an evening with grandpa. One bounced up and down on the bed while the other lay on her back legs alternately kicking the wall beside the bed. Kick kick jump jump kick kick jump jump. Is there a basketball game upstairs? A couple crackheads in the basement laundry room? No. The only ones in a drug induced mania were the small children. Kick kick jump jump.
By that time in my life I’d been a slave to several substances. The drug induced mania was clear. The sugar was wreaking havoc in their small intolerant bodies creating insulin surges in the gut and a flood of dopamine in the brains reward pathway, from the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens, and onto the prefrontal cortex shouting all the way Go! Go! Go! The frontal cortex is where the personality is born. Self expression, social behaviour, and cognitive thought created therein.
An hour later both are on the floor. Both are miserable. Exhausted and depressed, their brains attempting to regain homeostasis devoid of dopamine, the comedown quite recognizable to me, similar to that of any “drug of abuse”.
According to the World Health Organization, by the time their adults sugars will make up over 13% of their daily caloric intake. In TheWashington Post, neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis postulates that the average American takes in about 22 grams (one teaspoon is about 4 grams) of sugar per day, he continues:
“A decade ago, it was estimated that the average American consumed 22 added teaspoons of sugar a day, amounting to an extra 350 calories; it may well have risen since then. A few months ago on expert suggested that the average Briton consumes 238 teaspoons of sugar each week. Today, with convenience more important than ever in our food selections, it’s almost impossible to come across prepared and processed foods that don’t have added sugars for flavor, preservation, or both. These added sugars are sneaky–and unbeknown to many of us, we’ve become hooked. In ways that drugs of abuse–such as nicotine, cocaine, and heroin–hijack the brain’s reward pathway and make users dependent, increasing neuro-chemical and behavioral evidence suggests that sugar is addictive in the same way, too. Sugar addiction is real.”
By the time most of us are adults most of us have no idea how addicted we actually are, nor how difficult a proposition kicking the habit actually is. Our brains hijacked, our bodies tissue dependent, very real illnesses including but not limited to diabetes, addiction, heart disease, heart failure, Alzheimers, and even cancer can present.
Several years ago, in argument with another member of AA about the notion of abstention, a truly loaded term somehow aligned with the atrocity known as Nixon’s Drug Scheduling (as loaded as the word Drug, have both puns if you like) I pointed out what liquor, the other’s drug of choice, is converted into by the liver, you guessed it, or you knew it. We decided to both give up sugar along with everything else in the abstinence list (in which tobacco is not included, yet I had relinquished as well at that time). This meant checking the packaging of every desired food product on the shelf, and quickly realizing most everything on the shelves, most anything packaged and prepared for quick consumption contained at least some, if not a whole lot of sugars. In checking one must look for several names; sucrose, date syrup, fructose, granulated sugar, cane sugar, turbinado sugar, agave, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, xanthan gum, syrups of a many names–high fructose corn, and then there’s the names I can’t spell or pronounce. From cereal to crackers, fruit juice, granola bars, bread, even meats, most anything that came in a package was out.
During the well orchestrated “No Fat” craze of the Eighties, processed food manufacturers dialed down the fat, a taste evolution has hard-wired us to seek out, and to retain some flavor added a little more sugar. Upwards of thirty gram increase was not uncommon, that’s over an ounce of sugar in a beverage no more than eight total. Finding an out once hooked, as a quick walk through any Big-Box retail chain lays plain, can be trying.
Our taste-buds evolved to seek the sweet. Throughout prehistory sweet usually meant edible. and chemical messages of “good! that!” in the form of the dopamine flood to the frontal cortex was hard wired: “We need more of that to survive.”
In the gut where an excess of sugar cannot be metabolized insulin surges immediately turning the empty calories to fat, leaving the full stomach feeling empty and yet craving more.
Sugars effects on GABA, glutamate, and other neurotransmitters in the VTA are also mentioned in the MIT study*
In my attempt to quit sugar, I lasted a month. (Interestingly enough, post ibogaine I COULD NOT put anything sugary, processed, or boxed in my mouth as it all tasted like poison. Strictly nuts, grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables.) I experienced migraines that would bring me to my knees. I had no energy. I was depressed. I was craving. Anything. A simple bread roll at the bakery, a pasta dinner, anything–and I’m not that big a fan of sweets! I don’t typically crave or turn to chocolate to console, I do oatmeal with maple for breakfast, and generally have a very healthy diet. I was not kicking a couple two-liters of Coke a day habit, which I see often. I’ve taken to other substances in this life…
Information and knowledge do not necessarily ride in the same car. More people know now, thanks in part to Michelle’s “Let’s Move” initiative and tendency to tend to her veggie garden. Katie Couric’s documentary Fed-Up laid plain the dangers of a sugary diet.
We’ve all seen two-hundred pound preteens, we’ve seen folks with a couple two-liter a day habits, we’ve known those who died of heart disease or failure. The clogged arteries, the diabetes, the insulin shots and testers and meters. Even the TOFI, those thin outside fat inside folks that have no idea until they learn they too have been harbering death.
Only the weight of the non-toxic LSD will turn the deadly sugar cube into a felony. The propagandized point both egregious and erroneous, the irony astounding. Dig this Black Cop Drug Warriors, Africans were brought to the new world to grow sugar cane. First to the tropics, the slave trade was born and raised on sugar cane. Essentially we live and breath hypocrisy. We eat it, we buy it, we sell it.
As with every other ill is seems financial incentives continue to drive it. As many industries–corrections, law enforcement, pharmaceutical–continue to sustain themselves off the “war on drugs” the perceived protection from harmful substances, others rake it in through the proliferation of this sweet treat, from health care to food manufacturers to health insurance, in fact several life insurance companies have been known to buy stock in producers of junk foods.
This effects more than half the US population thought there will never be any concerted effort to acknowledge any of it as long as the economy provides just enough to get by, jobs remain secure, and the status-quo is bought and sold. Until the value of life trumps that of the dirty green paper, there will be no commercials for broccoli. When the hammer came down on another legal and once widely embraced deadly yet acceptable toxin, the cigarette, advertising just moved around the globe. Now in countries with lax laws they’re sold at schools. Elementary Schools.
At the current rate in a couple decades one in three Americans will have diabetes, a preventable, yet highly profitable disease. Worst of all, it will be our children that suffer the brunt of our informed ignorance.
* See Sugar (2) for MIT Study
- This is What Sugar Does to Your Brain– Huffington Post https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/06/sugar-brain-mental-health_n_6904778.html
- What Happens to your Brain when you give up Sugar– CNN http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/02/health/sugar-brain-diet-partner/index.html
- Fed-Up 2014 Stephanie Soechtig and Katie Couric
- Cocaine and Heroin Less Addictive than Oreo’s– Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2013/10/16/research-shows-cocaine-and-heroin-are-less-addictive-than-oreos/#15b2540b2427
- Sugar Coated 2015 Michele Hozer
- Intense Sweetness surpasses Cocaine Reward-NIH Pub.Med https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17668074
- Sugar, The Elephant in the Kitchen-TED https://www.npr.org/2016/11/18/502171330/how-worried-should-we-be-about-sugar
- “Decoding Sugar Addiction” MIT Study (Sugar: Part 2)