ARE BREAD, SWEETS, AND OTHER CARBS AS ADDICTIVE AS HARD DRUGS?
I’m sitting in a comfortable chair, in a tastefully lit, cheerfully decorated drug den, watching a steady line of people approach their dealer. After scoring, they shuffle off to their tables to quietly indulge in what for some could become (if it hasn’t already) an addiction that screws up their lives. It’s likely you have friends and family members who are suffering from this dependence—and you may be on the same path yourself.…. Think of this stuff as more than a drug—it’s like a metabolic parasite, taking over your body and feeding itself. Paul John Scott describing what goes on in a typical Panera’s Bread restaurant in an article found in the March 2011 issue of Details called “Are Carbs More Addictive Than Cocaine?”
“Bread — even whole wheat bread — is metabolically equivalent to Skittles, because it has the same glycemic index. You get the same sugar rush from a ‘healthy’ whole wheat bagel that you do from candy… and though it might not taste as sweet, it’s all the same to your digestive and metabolic system“. J. Stanton, author of Gnoll Credo, from his website.
How addictive are these foods? For a significant portion of the American population, junk carbs are more addictive than cocaine. A 2007 French study that we will mention again (University of Bordeaux) showed that when given a choice, rats chose sugar over Cocaine. Follow along as I show you many similar studies, as well as the effects that unbridled carb consumption has on neurotransmitters and brain function in relationship to addiction.
Research from New Zealand says that carbs might be as addictive as cigarettes. Dr. Simon Thornily, whose team worked out of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service and was published in the medical journal Medical Hypotheses, had this to say, “Heavily processed carbohydrates such as cornflakes, sweets and croissants quickly raise the amount of sugar in your blood. This rush of sugar stimulates the same areas of the brain that are involved with addiction to nicotine and other drugs.“
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of NUTRITION, diet, and food addictions. Her Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Psychology is from Princeton University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular biology at The Rockefeller University in New York City. In other words, she is a smart cookie. Dr. Avena says that rats exposed to lots of sugar makes them exhibit the kind of behavior commonly seen in drug junkies —– withdrawal, depression, anxiety, binges, cravings, altered personality, etc. This is because sugar stimulates the body to make Dopamine (a “feel good” neurotransmitter that affects the part of the brain related pleasure —– the same part of the brain that coke and meth both stimulate). Shortly, we will delve deeper into this premise that processed carbs and grain-based junk food are not really that different from some of the more common street drugs as far as their effects on the brain are concerned.
But from as long as I can remember, dietary fat was the Great Satan — the derailer of health that could ruin your heart while making you fat. Not carbs. Carbs were good good clean fuel. In fact, I was taught that dietary fat is the only thing that could make you fat. But the truth is, we could live our whole lives and never eat any carbohydrates. Think about it this way; there are Essential Fatty Acids and Essential Amino Acids (the building blocks of proteins). There are no Essential Carbohydrates other than glucose — a sugar that our body can readily / easily manufacture from both fats or proteins (think of the Eskimos here — or VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON). In fact, there is a growing number of scientists who believe that we should be seriously restricting non-vegetation-based carbs. This stands to reason with all the research coming out on the topic, including this quip from from a 2010 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) telling us that, “[carbohydrates are] a nutrient for which humans have no absolute requirement“. The study was headed by a renowned Endocrinologist at Harvard University.
Most of us were taught that a person’s weight is the result of food intake compared to their energy expenditure. I will have a blog post up within the week showing that this is simply not true. It is stupefying that we still have a medical community preaching a dietary message that was popular when I was in school — that you should reduce both dietary fat intake and total calories if you want to lose weight (along with incorporation some sort of cardo-based exercise program). This is what I was taught in school and what I believed (Kansas State University’s Nutrition / Exercise Physiology program). The truth is, however, that obesity is a function of what you eat, far more than it is a function of how much you eat. Too many carbs will not only make you fat, they are maximally addictive. You don’t believe me? Even city folk know that the best way to fatten a beef is with grain / corn. So, what is our government (USDA) doing with this tidbit of common sense information? Of course, they are telling us to eat even more processed carbs. Still don’t believe me? Look at their Food Pyramid
USDA guidelines say, “Sugars and starches provide energy to the body in the form of glucose, which is the only source of energy for red blood cells and is the preferred energy source for the brain“. This is a completely true statement. But it is a half truth. While it is true that the brain has to have fuel in the form of glucose (a simple carbohydrate), this glucose can be easily manufactured by the body from both fats and proteins. It can even come from vegetables (remember that corn is a grain, not a vegetable).
As crazy as it sounds, the diet above is still being promoted by both ADA’s (American Dietetic Association & American Diabetic Association) as well as the AMA (American Medical Association). Their official recommendation is to get about 55% of our caloric intake in the form of carbs (grains, potatoes, pasta, cereal, breads, etc). We are told to decrease protein (they claim it is harmful to the kidneys), decrease fat (they claim it makes you fat and causes heart disease), and eat a minimum of 130 grams of carbs / day (I am not making this up). And although this thought process is starting to change, I cannot tell you how many diabetics, pre-diabetics, or folks with Metabolic Syndrome have been told to eat more carbs and keep fat intake to a minimum if they have any hope of turning their health around. Even Dr. Oz has promoted (and continues to promote) this sort of thinking on some level (HERE).
Part of the problem with this dietary conundrum is that although we may all be using the same language, we are probably talking about very different things. What do I mean by this? Technically speaking, green leafy vegetables are carbohydrates. But so is white toast with cinnamon and sugar on top. Is there a difference? Darn straight there is! The same is true when we talk about proteins and fats. Is your dairy raw organic, or is it pasteurized, homogenized, fat-free, and loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones? Is your fish, wild, cold-water fish or was it farm raised in warm waters (only wild fish has high levels of EPA & DHA)? Do the eggs you eat come from free-range hens, or were they laid in a commercial egg farm by chickens that were fed grain? And what about your meat? Is it grass fed and organically raised (or wild, i.e. venison)? Or did it come from a feed lot where it is fed grain along with antibiotics, GROWTH HORMONES, and heaven only knows what else? The bottom line is that the more processed your food source, the worse it’s going to be for you, the more reactive it is likely to be, and it is much more likely to be addictive as well. Just understand when I use the term “carbs” in this post, I am speaking of High Glycemic Index carbs — or carbs that are rapidly converted to blood sugar (Glucose).
JUST HOW ADDICTIVE ARE CARBS?
I don’t believe you. I eat sugar and enjoy it. I am also active, happy, slightly underweight, and in excellent health for my age. My teeth are good, too. Did you read the article somewhere about the fatigue that comes from decision-making, and the effect of a shot of glucose to the brain in easing that fatigue? You should. There is no food that is evil, even sugar. So go ahead, fail to enjoy yourself. I think I’ll have a chocolate salted caramel. A reader’s response to an article on sugar addiction by Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a pediatric Neuro-Endocrinologist and a professor of pediatrics at the University of California.
It is no big revelation that sugar is related to cancer. If you Google “SUGAR FEEDS CANCER“, you will find a few articles knocking the idea, and a ton of information supporting it. Just understand that cancer cells utilize sugar differently than normal cells. The great OTTO WARBURG was one of the most brilliant scientists (biochemist) the world has ever seen. After all, how many people have won three Nobel Prizes? One of the prizes was for figuring out that cancer cells make energy differently than normal cells — not via the oxidation of fat, but from the break down of sugar (glycolysis). In other words, Warburg believed he had found the key to curing cancer clear back in the 1930’s. He believed that this difference in metabolism was the main thing that separated cancer from non-cancer (it’s actually known as the “Warburg Effect“). Be aware that much (probably most) of the scientific community pooh poohs the idea that cancer is related to sugar. But I regress. Let me show you how this topic is related to sugar / starch addiction.
A few years ago at the University of Würzburg in Germany, a team of doctors ran a study on the effects of a KETOGENIC DIET (virtually zero carbohydrates —- the Atkins Induction Phase) on cancer. Time Magazine reported in their September 17, 2007 issue that, “for five patients who were able to endure three months of carb-free eating, the results were positive: the patients stayed alive, their physical condition stabilized or improved, and their tumors slowed or stopped growing, or shrunk.” Wow, looks like a potential way to tame the tiger that we call cancer. But unfortunately, most dropped out of the study because they could not adhere to a carb-free diet. The researcher’s leader, Dr. Melanie Schmidt, sounded frustrated when she stated that, “we didn’t expect this to be such a big problem, but a considerable number of patients left the study because they were unable or unwilling to renounce soft drinks, chocolate and so on.” Wow! Great results with cancer in just three months, but most patients could not adhere to the diet. Such is the sway that sugar and junk carbs have over great numbers of people that they will potentially forfeit their life for their fix.
WHAT DOES CARB ADDICTION LOOK LIKE?
(Symptoms of a Sugar / Starch Addiction)
The first question I would ask you, is whether or not you are overweight? You see, carb addicts tend to eat not only mass quantities of carbs, but mass quantities of food in general. This is because eating sugar or starchy carbs causes insulin to be dumped into your blood stream in increasingly large amounts. This triggers a desire to eat still more food, creating a vicious cycle. Just like the example of fattening a beef; when you eat copious amounts of carbohydrates, you will jack your insulin levels higher and higher. Because insulin is a storage hormone, sooner or later you will gain weight if you continue to eat lots of High Glycemic Index carbs (HERE) . As people over-consume carbs, their energy levels fall and they gain weight. If you are on this crazy train, there is an almost certainty that you are addicted to carbs. Let’s look at a few others.
- Do you have to start your day with carbs such as bagels, waffles, pancakes, French toast, cereal, toast, syrup, honey, sugar, etc?
- Do you get hungry before lunch time even though you ate a big breakfast?
- Are you hungry shortly after eating a meal —- even a large meal?
- Do you always seem to be hungry no matter how much food you consume?
- Are you unable to give up carbs?
- Are you unable to even cut back on carbs?
- Do you have withdrawal symptoms (headaches, irritability, anxiety, mood swings, depression) if you attempt to go off carbs?
- Do you get tired easily?
- Do you feel foggy in the afternoon?
- Do you find yourself searching for a sugary or starchy snack in the afternoon?
- Do you find yourself unable to stop once you start eating your favorite carbs?
- Do you use food to fill an emotional need?
- When stressed, is your first response wanting to eat junk carbs?
- Do you fantasize about carbs or sugar?
- Do you feel that you could never live without your favorite carbs?
- Do you frequently binge?
- Do you hide / stash junk food?
- Do you frequently crave high-carb foods or sugar?
- Are you a compulsive eater?
- Do you find yourself wishing you could control your eating?
- Do you find yourself eating carbs despite the fact you are not hungry?
- Do you frequently feel sluggish, bloated, or fatigued after carb binges?
- Do carbs always seem to be calling your name?
- Does your behavior and habits associated with the consumption of carbs cause you to feel personal pain and emotional distress?
- Do you find yourself going out of your way or spending money you really don’t have just to get your sugar fix(es)?
- Does consuming carbs ever decrease your ability to function effectively on a day to day basis (work, daily routine, school, social activities, family life, sex, travel, etc)?
- Do you continue to consume junk carbs despite significant emotional and / or physical problems related to your eating?
- Do you try to reduce negative emotions or increase pleasurable feelings by consuming sugar or carbs?
- Do you find that carbs do not seem to produce the same feelings they used to — or that it takes increasing amounts of carbs to get the same reactions / feelings that you used to get?
- Do you feel unsatisfied if your meal does not contain a large portion of starchy carbs or sugar?
- Do you feel a meal is incomplete without dessert?
- Are you frequently stimulated to eat by the sight, smell, or thought of carbs?
- Do you frequently find yourself eating carbs even though you are not hungry?
- Do you reward yourself with carbs?
- Do you consume carbs late at night — or as a “midnight snack”?
- Have you tried and failed numerous diets?
- Would you be content to exist on fast food, snack food, junk food, and / or sugar and sweets?
- Do you find yourself frequently drinking large amounts of fruit juice, soda (diet is as bad as regular — HERE), sports drinks, or energy drinks?
- Do you have blood relatives that are obese, have Diabetes, or are carb addicted themselves?
- Do you regularly “substitute” (HERE)?
WHAT ACTUALLY CAUSES THE CARB ADDICTION?
But besides being the thing that causes the hormone insulin to be dumped into your system, carbs also cause the release of certain chemicals and neurotransmitters, namely Serotonin, Dopamine, and Endorphins.
SEROTONIN & CARBS
HERE is something I wrote on this subject after the fact. Serotonin (5-Hhydroxy-tryptamine or 5-HT) is made from the amino acid Tryptophan (in other words, L-Tryptophan is the main precursor to Serotonin). 90% of it is manufactured in the Gut (intestines). Serotonin not only regulates bowel motility, it is responsible for regulating things like appetite (low levels can lead to either or both anorexia and bulimia) and sleep patterns. It also functions in memory and learning. But the most well-known thing it does is modulate mood — it is known to be intimately related to feelings of well-being and happiness. I have previously written about the relationship of Serotonin and DEPRESSION.
One thing that we know about levels of Serotonin is that they are jacked up by the consumption of carbs via increased levels of insulin (actually, sugar and simple carbs increase the absorption of Tryptophan in the Gut). Because sugar raises Serotonin levels, and Serotonin is a ‘feel-good’ chemical, many people will feel driven to eat sugar or High Glycemic Index carbs to keep their Serotonin levels elevated. Do you see an addictive pattern starting to form? Just remember that your body cannot tolerate increased insulin levels for very long without paying an ugly price in the form of severe health problems like Diabetes, Obesity, and Heart Disease. In fact, you might be shocked to learn that the peer-reviewed scientific literature is tying virtually every health problem you can imagine back to high blood sugar / high blood insulin.
One of the things that we are learning is that stress, whether emotional, psychological, physical, etc, leads the body to produce cortisol and adrenaline / epinephrine. Besides causing increased amounts of belly fat, extended exposure to Cortisol will send one into a condition known as Adrenal Fatigue. This is better known in America by it’s other name — Fibromyalgia. Just remember that Cortisol has the ability to foul up the body’s mechanism for manufacturing Serotonin. This is why things like depression, insomnia, eating disorders, etc, are typically going to be treated by your doctor with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s). In case you did not know, there are lots of potential problems caused by taking this class of drug (see link two paragraphs previous).
In a nutshell, sugar increases Serotonin, and Serotonin alleviates both physical and emotional pain. Unfortunately, life does not always go the way we think it should, and when things become stressful, many of us will turn to the quickest, easiest, pain reliever we can find — one that does not require a doctor visit or prescription — sugar / carbs. Most of us will do almost anything to avoid pain. Thus, for the person trapped in the addictive loop, the cycle is repeated over and over and over again —- on a daily basis. Furthermore, because the feedback loop that would normally tell people to stop consuming carbs and sugar is either downregulated or damaged (or both), people caught in this vicious cycle will often binge like there is no tomorrow.
DOPAMINE & CARBS
The other of the chief neurotranmsitters of the brain is called Dopamine. Dopamine is produced in several areas of the brain (chiefly the Substantia Nigra and the Ventral Tegmental Area) and is heavily involved with reward-driven learning. In fact, every single one of the body’s “Reward-based Systems” (start thinking in terms of addiction here) increases Dopamine transmission in the brain. This is true whether your “reward” is cocaine, methamphetamine, or bread. Some of the specific functions of Dopamine in this regard would be things like
- Telling us when a reward is present or available.
- Motivating us to seek said reward.
- Motivating us to learn more about the reward.
- Makes us conscious of cues related to the reward.
Dopamine enables us not only to recognize rewards, but to take action steps and move toward them. Recent research, including that by Drs. Kenny and Dagher last year, showed how the body’s reward centers and Dopaminegic system can be taken over (could I say “hijacked here“?) by appetite-related / metabolism-related hormones that act in a virtually identical manner to street drugs like coke and meth. For many people, carbs have become their culturally acceptable addiction.
The hedonic properties of food can stimulate feeding behaviour even when energy requirements have been met, contributing to weight gain and obesity. Similarly, the hedonic effects of drugs of abuse can motivate their excessive intake, culminating in addiction. Common brain substrates regulate the hedonic properties of palatable food and addictive drugs, and recent reports suggest that excessive consumption of food or drugs of abuse induces similar neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuitries. Here, we review evidence suggesting that obesity and drug addiction may share common molecular, cellular and systems-level mechanisms. Dr. Paul Kenny‘s abstract from an article in the November 2011 issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience called Common Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms in Obesity and Drug Addiction. Kenny is a leader in the field, with a Ph.D is in Neuro-Psycho-Pharmacology.
When a carb addict is merely getting ready to chow down on carbs, approximately 9 of 10 neurons in the Ventral Tegmental System enter into an excited state. They reach out and neurologically touch various parts of the brain that control things like pleasure (the nucleus acumbens), emotions (the amygdala / limbic system), and hippocampus (converts short term memories to long term). In 2001, a team of researchers working for the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that obese people had significantly fewer dopamine receoptors in the brain’s reward centers than people of normal weight. What does this mean? It means that in order to get the same amount of ‘satisfaction’ from eating, obese people had to eat much more food. Interestingly enough, the thing that caused the down-regulation of this particular system in the first place was the over-consumption of “highly palatable food” — foods high in both sugar and fat.
And when ‘full’ subjects were shown videos of people enjoying their favorite foods (or were allowed to see and even smell their favorite foods — but not eat them), a veritable tsunami of Dopamine was released by the brain. Sort of sounds like the neurological version of Pavlov’s Dog, doesn’t it? Here is a practical application to this finding. In the same way that it would not be prudent for a recovering sex addict to spend time in strip clubs, it is important for recovering carb addicts not to bring junk in the house or go into places where junk is easily accessible — something that can prove difficult to say the least.
We’ve looked at how carb addictions develop in the Serotonergic System, but as far as the Dopaminergic System is concerned, addictions tend to develop like this. A person is continually seeking their reward (carbs and the feelings associated with eating carbs). Eating carbs (cashing in on the reward) causes large amounts of Dopamine to be dumped into the system. When the neurological pathway involving the Ventral Tegmental Area and the Nucleus Acumbens is perpetually saturated with Dopamine, the body begins to down-regulate the system (a typical negative feedback loop not much different than the way a thermostat maintains the temperature of your house). Just how severe is the down-regulation? Dr. Kelly showed us a decade ago that rats eating a diet of ‘highly palatable food’ (junk food) for only two weeks, decreased the amount of enkephalin (an endorphin-like natural pain killer) in the Nucleus Acumbens — the same finding found in heroin addicts. What does all of this mean? In order to get the same amount of pleasure (reward), you must eat increasingly more junk.
As you eat more junk and dump more Dopamine into the system, the Dopaminergic System shuts down even further (further down-regulation). As you can see, overeating can become extreme as people attempt to capture those same “good feelings” that they used to get from eating carbs. Research has shown that once a person reaches this point, not only do they feel trapped in this cycle, but they have to eat more and more food to experience that old feeling of reward and pleasure. For the addict, it becomes almost impossible to stop once the first bite hits the mouth. Hint: HERE is a way to stop.
This is why telling an addict in this condition that “all foods are OK in moderation” is sheer folly. In the same way that the recovered alcoholic cannot sit in a bar and drink “or or two” beers, neither can the carb addict have even one bite of cake. Think I’m over-reacting? Just last year Dr. Serge Ahmed (he worked in the Neuropharmacology Department of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla California with Dr. Paul Kenny) showed that when given the choice, lab animals prefer sugar to I.V. heroin or cocaine in 19 out of 20 cases. Wow! Research has shown us the extremes mammals will go to for that junk food fix. When lab rats are given unlimited access to junk food, they will all but literally eat themselves to death. They will…
- Walk across a surface that hits them with severe electrical shocks over and over.
- If they only have a limited time to eat, they will gorge themselves until the food is removed.
- After the junk food binges, the rats will curl up in a ball, wring their paws, and act extremely irritable and nervous.
- Without their regular “fix” of sugar they end up with the shakes.
- Rats on this diet developed a tolerance to sugar that led them to quadruple sugar consumption over the course of the diet’s first week.
- Remove the sugar and the rats have withdrawal symptoms similar to those seen with hard drugs.
- Rats that were addicted to sugar were much more prone to consuming large amounts of meth, coke, or booze.
- Once the rats started the hard stuff, they were easily addicted when compared to normal rats.
AND THE KICKER…..
- If given the choice, cross-addicted rats (drugs / sugar) always chose sugar over the hard drugs.
OTHER COMMON REASONS FOR CARB ADDICTION
- SYSTEMIC YEAST: Women know all about yeast infections. But what happens when yeast becomes blood-borne and settles in the digestive tract? Just understand that Systemic Yeast is caused by ANTIBIOTIC USE, but fed by SUGAR / CARBS. You had better understand GUT FLORA / DYSBIOSIS and PROBIOTICS if you have any real prayer of getting this monster under control. I have read authors who claim that the energy draw of yeast, bad bacteria, and parasites can be greater than that of one of your existing organ systems. How does your body react to this heightened energy need? It tells you to eat more sugar — the food of choice for these nasty critters.
- HYPOGLYCEMIA: This is related to blood sugar issues we have already talked about. Oversimplified; the body likes as little fluctuation in blood sugar as possible. When you eat sugar or foods that are quickly converted to blood sugar, your pancreas makes insulin. The higher the spike in blood sugar, the more insulin it produces. Insulin moves sugar out of the blood and into the cells. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar that is technically called “Reactive Hypoglycemia”) occurs when the body ‘reacts‘ to spiked blood sugar by making too much insulin. This drives the blood sugar levels below base line, which is why high blood sugar and low blood sugar are actually two sides of the same coin; both precursors to Diabetes. More on HYPOGLYCEMIA.
- ADRENAL STRESS / ADRENAL FATIGUE / FIBROMYALGIA: How many Americans do you know who are chronically tired? For many of these people, eating sugar or High Glycemic Index carbs is the equivalent of a snort of speed. Your adrenal glands are your stress glands. They make your number one stress hormone — Cortisol. In normal amounts, Cortisol is fabulous stuff. It is responsible for things like regulating sugar metabolism, blood pressure, and immune system function — of which INFLAMMATION is part. Cortisol also helps control memory functions as well as decreasing one’s sensitivity to pain. Under stressful situations, your body’s Cortisol level rises. Chronically high levels of Cortisol actually cause muscle tissue to be broken down for conversion to blood sugar (energy to fuel the fight or flight mechanism). It then turns around and moves the unused sugar into the body’s cells to be burned for energy or stored as fat. The longer that high Cortisol levels continue, the greater the chances of high blood pressure, Type II Diabetes, various brain dysfunctions including atrophy of the hippocampus (where short term memory is converted to long term), anxiety, SYMPATHETIC DOMINANCE, depression, trouble sleeping, diminished healing capacity, and the tell-tale sign…… increased belly fat. The increased belly fat aspect of Cortisol is heightened because fat cells in the belly have four times more cortisol receptors compared to fat cells elsewhere. This means that your addiction is reinforcing itself in a vicious cycle. You are essentially converting muscle into fat. Oh, and one more thing. Running is a known raiser of Cortisol. This is why I recommend STRENGTH TRAINING OVER CARDIO almost 100% of the time.
- INSULIN RESISTANCE: INSULIN RESISTANCE is characterized by high levels of blood sugar and high levels of blood insulin circulating through your system at the same time. When you dose out on carbs and jack your blood sugar, your body responds by flooding your blood with insulin. Your body immediately stops burning fat and begins storing fat (again, usually around the MID-SECTION). And just like a drug addict that takes increasingly larger amounts of heroin / cocaine / methamphetamine / to get the same feelings of euphoria (‘high’) they used to get, it takes more and more insulin to do its normal job. People’s response is to eat even more sugar so that they can crank insulin levels even higher and drive some sugar into the cells. As this feedback mechanism becomes more and more blunted (downregulated), the pancreas can no longer keep up with the body’s demand for insulin and begins to fail (METABOLIC SYNDROME). These people have plenty of sugar in their blood, but their over-consumption of carbs / sugar has put them in a place where they can’t move it into their cells. As the cycle spins out of control, people feel as though they cannot satisfy their cravings for sugar. Diabetes occurs as the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. Even as people get fatter and fatter, they crave more carbs — it’s never enough to satisfy this broken cycle. Be warned that increased belly fat (fat around the organs) creates far more health issues than fat deposits in other areas of the body.
GLUTEN ADDICTION: YET ANOTHER KICK IN TEETH
Some of the day-to-day things that can bring on this feeling of euphoria for brief amounts of time are exercise (‘runner’s high’), sex / orgasm, athletic triumph, good news, etc. The high is caused by the release of something called ‘endorphins’ (endogenous morphine). The term ‘endogenous’ means that the opiates come from inside the body. Certain drugs like Cocaine or Methamphetamine (exorphins —- exogenous morphine-like chemicals that come from outside the body) have the ability to modulate opiate receptors for much longer periods of time. Although no one gets a “Carbohydrate High” for hours on end like users get from meth, it will typically last longer than an orgasm. As you have seen, this leads to the potential for addiction. Enter Glutomorphin.
When GLUTEN (wheat protein) is broken down by the body, some of the partially digested gluten fragments have the ability to act like and bind to opiate receptors due to their morphine-like shape. These are called Glutomorphins —- Gluten Morphines (Glutomorphin is one of the GLUTEN CROSS REACTORS). As crazy as it sounds, two of the most-studied food-based exorphins are Glutomorphin and Gliadomorphin (Gliadin is a wheat protein that is part of the Gluten molecule). Is this brand new information? Not even close. Clear back in the April 1979 issue of The Journal of Biological Chemistry, we were told about the stringent criteria that must be met for these wheat-based exorphins to find their way into the blood stream, in a study called Opioid Peptides Derived from Food Proteins……..
- Wheat Exorphins must appear in the digestive tract after eating them and during digestion.
- Wheat Exorphins must survive the initial assault by digestive by enzymes attempting to break them down into individual amino acids.
- Wheat Exorphins must be absorbed into the bloodstream – whole or intact.
- Wheat Exorphins must then cross the blood-brain barrier.
We know that these criteria are met in people with Celiac Disease. But incidence of Celiac Disease here in America is thought to be about 1 in every 100 persons. Although estimations of Gluten Sensitivity vary wildly, let’s conservatively estimate it at ten times that rate, or 1 in every 10 people (some estimations are as high as 1 in 2). But how is wheat protein (Gluten, Glutenin, Gliadin) getting out of the digestive tract, into the blood stream, and then past the blood brain barrier unmolested? Enter the “Leaky” family —- Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain, Leaky Lung, and their nasty relatives.
Because it is by far the most common of the “Leakys”, we will address LEAKY GUT SYNDROME first (when doing your own research, it is critical to remember that Leaky Gut Syndrome goes by the name Increased Intestinal Permeability within the medical community and has been the subject of nearly 10,000 scientific studies over the past two decades). Leaky Gut Syndrome is driven by Inflammation, and is the FOUNDATION OF MOST EXISTING DISEASE PROCESSES. In a nutshell, Inflammation causes the ‘tight’ junctions between cells in the small intestine to become ‘loose’. This creates larger openings than should be present, allowing bigger particles to get through into the bloodstream — particles like undigested or partially digested wheat proteins among many other things. The real kick in the teeth is that the very same thing can happen in the brain with the blood-brain barrier. Furthermore, we see the same thing occurring with other food-based proteins as well. Milk, for instance, gives us Casomorphin (Casien Morphine — Casien is milk protein).
Wheat also happens to contain high levels of the amino acid Glutamine. Glutamine / Glutamate acts as a stimulant in the body. It is an Excitotoxin in the same vein as MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). WGA (Wheat Germ Agglutinin) acts in the same manner. The ramped up energy, blood sugar, neurotransmitters, and exorphins from wheat, provides addicted people the “boost” they are looking for. But think about the irony of this situation. The very food that is making them sick, happens to be the focus of their addiction. It would behoove all of us to learn more about Inflammation and what it takes to keep “THE LEAKIES” out of our lives!
OK; YOU REALIZE YOU’RE A CARB JUNKIE
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO BREAK THE CHAINS OF ADDICTION?
The “everything is OK in moderation“ line that many of today’s experts are trying to sell us is the equivalent of selling us down the river. Remember my earlier point about sex addicts and strip clubs? The truth is, when it comes to breaking carb addictions (notice that the word here is “addictions“), this diet issue is more black and white than many of you have been led to believe. If you read the section on Neurotransmitters and Endogenous Morphine, hopefully you are beginning to understand the physiological / neurological consequences of carbs on the carb addict. I believe that it is absolutely imperative that you not ratchet up your craving for carbs —- particularly while trying to break the addiction. For many of us (yeah; I hate to admit it, but self included), carbs are drugs. It’s really fairly simple to understand. Drug addicts can’t dabble with drugs. Sugar addicts can’t dabble with carbs. Period — end of story. If you stay away from them you no longer want them. But what about a Cheat Day?
I tried to do the “Cheat Day” thing in the past. It’s something that Tim Ferris promotes in his book Four Hour Body. I have found that it really doesn’t work for me —- particularly doing it one day a week like he suggests. Some of you can get away with it. After all; everyone is unique. However, you better know yourself pretty well if you are going to cheat. Many of you already realize that a Cheat Day will mess you up for days — or maybe weeks. If that is the case, why go there? The really cool thing about defeating a carb addiction with the ‘Cold Turkey’ method is that most of you will have your addiction under control in about a week or so. Bottom line, for many of you, the only way to successfully defeat the carb monster is to get totally off of them. Try and dabble and you’ll rekindle a raging fire. Remember that when Ferris was addressing the topic of Cheat Days in his book, his focus was on people with weight problems and not addiction(s).
- SIT DOWN AND CREATE A WRITTEN PLAN: When you build a house, what is the first thing you do? You make a set of plans. Without good plans, anything can happen. Without a firm plan of action, you are committing / resigning yourself to failure.
- DON’T DABBLE WITH THE BEAST: I just mentioned this one but I’ll repeat myself. The research says that carb-addicted people will have addictive reactions to the smell, sight, or even thought of sugar and carbs. Don’t think for a minute that just one little tiny bite of cake won’t rekindle an inferno. Grab the tiger by the tail and you’ll soon be staring into its eyes.
- GET RID OF THE JUNK IN YOUR HOUSE: If you were a recovering crack head, you would hopefully realize that hanging out in a crack house might not be in your best interest. In the same line of thinking, someone who is serious about quitting smoking would surely not keep cigarettes laying around the house would they? Take the cue and get the crap out of your house. Clear the fridge, the freezer, the pantry, and yes, your secret stashes. No, do not keep it on hand to feed to company.
- DON’T THINK THAT JUST BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO “CALORIES”, ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS ARE OK: These bad boys have a multitude of problems associated with them. They lead to sugar cravings and even though they have no calories, they spike insulin just like sugar does. Studies have shown that people who drink diet soda actually gain more weight than those drinking regular soda. If you fail to understand this, these sweeteners will sabotage you.
- GET THE WHOLE FAMILY IN ON THE ACT: How are you planning on radically changing the way you eat without some degree of concession, cooperation, and understanding from your family? Why wait until your kids have the outward trappings of carb / Gluten addiction before you start to make changes? Educate your family and proceed. They might gritch a little at first, but they will love you for it later.
- DON’T REWARD YOURSELF OR YOUR CHILDREN WITH SUGAR OR CARBS: I want you to notice one of the words in the title to this bullet point; “Reward”. If you were paying attention to this post, you realize that Dopamine runs your brain’s Reward Center. Neurologically reinforcing (training) anyone that carbs are a reward is a slippery slope. Fail to heed this advice and you can end up with FAT CHILDREN or worse. Specialists are seeing a rash of diseases (Heart Disease, High Cholesterol, Diabetes, etc) in children that were previously only seen in adults.
- EAT BREAKFAST AND MAKE SURE IT’S THE RIGHT KIND: The average American breakfast consists of things like donuts, cinnamon rolls, pancakes, waffles, syrup, cereal, sugar, toast, etc…. You get the picture. What do all these things have in common? Carb city! Eating a veggie omelet would be a great way to start your day. If you are pressed for time, make sure you have all of the ingredients mixed up in a sealed bowl in the fridge for the next morning. If you are really pressed for time, you could eat an apple and a glass of GREENS & SP COMPLETE.
- DO NOT LET HYPOGLYCEMIA RARE ITS UGLY HEAD: This is fairly simple. Make sure to snack on small amounts of protein throughout the day so as not to let your blood sugar levels yo yo all over the place. When you spike your blood sugar, you are going to see a corresponding inverted spike (valley) a short time later. As insulin does its job and brings your blood sugar down, it often overshoots its mark and drives your blood sugar below where it should be. As I have shown earlier, this triggers sugar cravings.
- DRINK MORE WATER: If you are drinking anything other than maybe some green or black tea (or maybe a cup of real coffee), stop. This is not difficult to understand. Your body needs water. It’s even better if you drink the sort of water that spares your metabolic center (Thyroid) HERE. Be aware that coffee is one of the most common Gluten Cross Reactors.
- LEARN HOW TO BREATHE CORRECTLY: Most of us are very shallow breathers. Learning how to deep breathe takes almost no time and dramatically improves brain function. And in case you have not noticed, addictions take place in the brain.
- START CALMING YOUR SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM: You have two different nervous systems. The Parasympathetic System (relaxation, digestion, and contentedness) and the Sympathetic System (fight or flight, high tension, stress). Most Americans live in a state of perpetual SYMPATHETIC DOMINANCE. Find out why.
- HAVE MORE SEX: Have you seen the research about the effects of sex on Dopamine and Serotonin levels? Neither have I, but it sure sounds like a great excuse to have more sex. All kidding aside, sex does increase neurotransmitters as well as providing a boost of endorphins. Orgasm creates a short-lived Dopamine brainstorm.
- CLEANSE AND DETOX: This could be any number of things. I am particular to the Master’s Cleanse. You could get out your Champion Juicer and do nothing but fresh, raw, organic vegetable juices for a week. There are all sorts of ways to cleanse, but you really need to understand the importance of BOWEL HEALTH as far as overall health is concerned.
- CERTAIN SUPPLEMENTS CAN BE BENEFICIAL: I have already mentioned some of these by name, but the amino acid L-Tryptophan & 5HTP are both precursors of Serotonin, and certain co-factors such as Vitamin B6, vitamin C, Folic Acid and magnesium are needed to complete the conversion process. As far as Dopamine is concerned, it is called Dop-amine for a reason —- amino acids. Your best bet for increasing Dopamine levels is to consume plenty of high quality animal protein.
- TAKE A QUALITY PROBIOTIC: If you have been a sugar addict for very long, you almost certainly have some degree of Yeast taking up residence in your bowel. Once you have done a cleanse, restore your good bacteria by taking a broad-spectrum probiotic (HERE).
- MAKE SURE TO GET PLENTY OF HIGH QUALITY OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS IN YOUR DIET: Notice I used the word “quality” here. Do not think that the fish oil you buy at Aldi’s for $2.99 is going to fill the bill. You can get Omega Threes from certain vegetables, grass fed beef, venison, free range chickens or their eggs, and even raw milk. The truth is, though, most of us are going to have to take a high quality FISH OIL SUPPLEMENT if we want to have any hope of getting the amount that our body requires. Omega-3’s form approximately 3/5 of the brain’s fat-based cell structure. Studies have even shown that diets low in Omega-3’s lead to 20% fewer Dopamine Receptors in the part of the brain most associated with impulsivity, as well as increasing Serotonin Receptor activation. And if you have not seen the scientific studies on Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil and its ability to squelch anxiety, anger, depression, etc, you need to click on the link.
- EXERCISE AND MOVE ON A REGULAR BASIS: I am not telling you to go out and do absurdly difficult workouts or exercise for hours on end. I am telling you that if you look at the research on carb addiction and addiction in general, you see that exercise is an extremely important component of breaking them. It leads to better brain function and reverses brain atrophy. It lessens the symptoms of withdrawal and it directly regenerates Dopamine Receptors. As always do your own research. HERE is a good place to start. Exercising outside can provide additional benefit because bright sunlight has been shown to increase both Dopamine and Serotonin.
- DON’T CHEAT: I have already covered this one, but at least during the initial phase of your battle against carb addiction, don’t tempt fate by cheating (HERE). Yes, you might hurt someone’s feelings (the neighbor lady who invited you over for pie and ice cream). Just ask yourself if eating that plate of lasagna is worth fighting the days of cravings it will stimulate.
- DON’T FOOL YOURSELF WITH FOOD SUBSTITUTION GAMES: This is the game where people fool themselves that they are doing good because they gave up their six-sodas-a-day habit. What they are not telling you is that they replaced it with “healthy” drinks like Gatorade or orange juice. There are about a jillion other examples of this (HERE).
- DON’T BE AFRAID OF CONSUMING FATS: Depending on what you have heard and how brainwashed you are, you may have to sit here and repeat to yourself, “not all fats are bad, not all fats are bad“. There are some fats that are deadly (TRANS FATS). Avoid them like the plague. But a fat free diet or nearly fat free will doom you to failure. Dietary fat is going to help keep you feeling full and squelch your cravings for carbs.
- YOU NEED TO BE EATING A LOW CARB DIET: In case you have not figured it out yet, carbs can really mess with your metabolism. They are what drives the Endocrine System’s fat-storage machinery. If you have any AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES (they tend to travel in groups) or unexplained health problems, you should seriously consider going PALEO as well.
- EAT WHOLE FOODS: Make sure that the foods you are eating are “clean”. For more information, visit our WHOLE FOODS PAGE.
- UNDERSTAND THE GLYCEMIC INDEX AND THE CONCEPT OF GLYCEMIC LOAD: Simply stated, different carbs are broken down to glucose at various rates. Things that break down rapidly (white potatoes, popcorn, pancakes, bread, sweets, etc) cause a sharp spike in blood sugar that leads to a sharp spike in insulin. If you have been following along thus far, you realize that you want neither. You want to eat carbohydrates with a low Glycemic Load (apples, grapefruit, green leafy vegetables).
- GET AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER: Every year, just after Thanksgiving, I start having visions of eggnog. This year, my buddy Rick and I created THE HOLIDAY CHALLENGE (which, by the way, is coming to a close — the post will be up in the next couple of weeks). There is not a one of us who cannot benefit from someone holding our fingers to the fire. Breaking your carb addiction with a friend is much easier than breaking it by yourself. In our hi-tech computer age, your friend could live across the country. Reminding each other how far you’ve come and how darned difficult it was breaking the addictive cycle may be just the motivation you need to stay on the straight and narrow.