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the debate over food addictions and whether or not they are real


It’s still too premature to have food addiction in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). It’s not even been 15 years ago that scientists first started studying at food addiction in rats. Only in the past five to six years have we started to see clinical studies.  So far, results are consistent that food addiction does exist but, as with all science, we need time to flush out details before we can call it a disorder. But just because we don’t call it a disorder doesn’t meant it’s not a disorder.”  Dr. Nicole M. Avena, a Princeton-educated Neuroscientist at the New York Obesity Research Center of Columbia University, as quoted in K. Aleisha Fetters May, 11 article on Yahoo Health (Is Food Addiction Real?)

Remember the article I recently wrote about the fact that there are still those who deny NON-CELIAC GLUTEN SENSITIVITY exists?  That’s right’ as crazy as it sounds to you who are in the know, and despite any amount of evidence to the affirmative, there are also large numbers of people who believe SUGAR AND FOOD ADDICTIONS don’t exist either (see the article title at the top of the page).  Much of this has to do with a 2012 study from Nature Reviews Neuroscience (Obesity and the Brain: How Convincing is the Addiction Model?) that concluded that the “sugar is addictive” model had, “several fundamental shortcomings, as well as weaknesses and inconsistencies in the empirical support for it.”  Sorry; I’m not buying this, especially considering the abundance of “evidence” to the contrary.  For example, HERE, HERE, and HERE.   There is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence (experiential evidence), which many of you will vouch for.

Every time I have a patient with a THYROID, FIBROMYALGIA, BLOOD SUGAR REGULATION, or OBESITY, issue, I ask a simple question: Do you crave sugar, junk food, or refined / processed carbohydrates to the point it could be called a pathology, disease, or addiction?  Nine times out of ten — particularly when it comes to females — the answer is yes.  It is my opinion, that in order to be able to claim Sugar Addictions don’t exist requires one to ignore mountains of evidence.  Speaking of “EVIDENCE“, let’s take a moment and look at a few recent studies — studies published within the past year.

  • PROCESSED FOODS ACT AS DRUGS:  A study published just two months ago in the European medical journal Psychiatrica Danubina (Food Addiction-Diagnosis and Treatment) concluded that, “The concept of food addiction is new and complex, but proven to be very important for understanding and solving the problem of obesity.  The paper emphasizes the neurological studies, whose results indicate the similarity of brain processes that are being activated during drug abuse and during eating certain types of food. In this context, different authors speak of “hyper-palatable”, industrial food, saturated with salt, fat and sugar, which favor an addiction.”  Did you catch that?  There are any number of studies (these authors covered 22) that deal with the neurological aspect of sugar / food addictions.

  • PROCESSED FOODS ARE THE FOODS THAT ARE MOST ADDICTIVE:  This study (Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load), published in February’s issue of PLoS One, added some fuel to this fire.     Addictive substances are rarely in their natural state, but are frequently ‘natural’ substances that have been altered or processed in a manner that increases their abuse potential.  For example, grapes can be processed into wine, while poppies can be refined into opium / morphine / heroin.  A similar process may be occurring within our food supply.   “In substance-use disorders, one result of processing addictive substances is often a higher concentration of the addictive agent. An increased potency, or concentrated dose, of an addictive agent increases the abuse potential of the substance. “food addiction” may share common behavioral attributes with other addictive disorders. Neuroimaging studies have also revealed biological similarities in patterns of reward-related dysfunction between “food addicts” and substance-dependent individuals. Individuals endorsing symptoms of “food addiction” exhibit increased activation in reward-related regions (e.g., striatum, medial orbitofrontal cortex) in response to food cues, consistent with other addictive disorder”  Which foods do the authors say are the most addictive?   “highly processed foods may be more likely to be consumed in an addictive manner.”  The bibliography contained 59 studies.  By the way, learning more about one of the chief ingredients in many processed foods — MSG — would be beneficial to most people.

  • ADDICTIVE FOODS ARE USED TO RELIEVE STRESS:  The December, 2014 issue of Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews published a study from the School of Medical Sciences in Sydney, Australia (The Intersection of Palatable Food, Cues and Reward Pathways, Stress, and Cognition) that showed where our over-consumption of these sorts of foods is taking us. “Changes in food composition and availability have contributed to the dramatic increase in obesity over the past 30-40 years in developed and, increasingly, in developing countries.  Using supermarket foods high in fat and sugar, we showed that such a diet leads to changes in neurotransmitters involved in the hedonic [raw pleasure] appraisal of foods, indicative of an addiction-like capacity of foods high in fat and/or sugar. Importantly, withdrawal of the palatable diet led to a stress-like response. Furthermore, access to this palatable diet attenuated [weakened, diluted, thinned, reduced, weakened, diminished] the physiological effects of acute stress, indicating that it could act as a comfort food.”  But don’t kid yourself.  Although these sorts of foods might initially blunt the effects of stress, such an effect will be short lived, with the person needing their “fix” more frequently and in larger amounts to get that same feeling.

  • WITHDRAWAL’S A “B”   This February’s edition of Physiology & Behavior (Sugar Withdrawal and Differential Reinforcement of Low Rate (DRL) Performance in Rats) dealt with another issue seen in addictions — withdrawal.  The study’s abstract stated that, “Sugar consumption is assumed to induce a behavioral state that is similar to the one provoked by addictive substances. Drug withdrawal increases impulsivity…..  Thus, sugar abstinence after a relatively long consumption period resulted in impairment of DRL performance [increased impulsivity], confirming the parallel effects of addictive drugs and sugar and suggesting an increase in impulsivity as a consequence of sugar deprivation.”  This is a big deal because “impulsivity” is a hallmark of addictive states. It is one of the things that leaves you wondering why you did something so illogical.  Retailers and grocers know this, purposely setting up their stores in the ways that advanced research has shown to induce the most “impulse” purchasing.

  • FOOD ADDICTION IS HERITABLE:  Another recent study (Dopamine and Glucose, Obesity, and Reward Deficiency Syndrome) — this one with a bibliography of over 160 individual pieces of research — was published in last September’s issue of Frontiers in Psychology.   The authors stated that, “Recently a number of theories backed by a plethora of scientifically sound neurochemical and genetic studies provide strong evidence that food addiction is similar to psychoactive drug addiction. Our laboratory has published on the concept known as Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS) which is a genetic and epigenetic phenomena leading to impairment of the brain reward circuitry resulting in a hypo-dopaminergic function. RDS involves the interactions of powerful neurotransmitters and results in abnormal craving behavior.”  We already know that in issues like this, EPIGENETICS TRUMP GENETICS.  The authors go on to explain that, “The consumption of alcohol in large quantities or carbohydrate binging stimulates the brain’s production of and utilization of dopamine. So too does the intake of crack cocaine, cocaine, opioids, and the abuse of nicotine. Aggressive behavior has also been associated with this… abnormality which also stimulates the brain’s use of Dopamine.   Certainly, the compulsion and the loss of control observed in the drug taking behaviors of drug-addicted subjects is similar to overeating by obese individuals.”  And if you want to see something really scary, realize that women can pass “Food Addiction” on to their children.  “Interestingly, in animal models a predisposition in offspring to food addiction was caused by feeding rat mothers fatty, sugary, and salty snacks (junk food) during pregnancy and lactation. Compared to controls rat offspring demonstrated an increase in weight and BMI, their mothers displayed binge eating and junk food overeating behaviors.

  • THINKING ABOUT BARIATRIC SURGERY?  One of the interesting things we’ve seen with bariatric surgery (“stomach stapling”) is that placebo surgery is just as effective (HERE).  This is thought to be true due to a transfer of bacteria.  In case you were not aware, BACTERIA PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE in weight management, whether thin or fat.  Now we learn that these surgeries actually “transfer” food addictions as well.  Listen to the conclusions of this study that was published in the August, 2014 issue of Eating Behaviors (Problematic Intake of High-Sugar/Low-Fat and High Glycemic Index Foods by Bariatric Patients is Associated with Development of Post-Surgical New Onset Substance Use Disorders).  “Bariatric or weight loss surgery (WLS) patients are overrepresented in substance abuse treatment…… Our findings provide evidence for the possibility of addiction transfer among certain bariatric patients.

  • ARE YOU A WINTER-HATING BINGE EATER?  A study published in the December, 2013 issue of Frontiers of Psychology (A Narrative Review of Binge Eating and Addictive Behaviors: Shared Associations with Seasonality and Personality Factors) dealt with the relationship between binge-eating and “Seasonal Affective Disorder”.  Binge-eating disorder and seasonal affective disorder were first described as clinically relevant conditions in very close temporal proximity a few decades ago. Both disorders have a higher prevalence rate in woman than in men, are characterized by a high proneness-to-stress and manifest heightened responsiveness to high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods. In recent years, a compelling body of evidence suggests that foods high in sugar and fat have the potential to alter brain reward circuitry in a manner similar to that seen when addictive drugs like alcohol and heroin are consumed in excess. These findings have led to suggestions that some cases of compulsive overeating may be understood as an addiction to sweet, fatty, and salty foods. In this paper, it is proposed that high seasonality is a risk factor for binge eating, especially in those characterized by anxious and impulsive personality traits – associations that could only occur in an environment with a superfluity of, and easy access to, rich and tasty foods. Given the well-established links between binge eating and addiction disorders, it is also suggested that seasonality, together with the same high-risk psychological profile, exacerbates the likelihood of engaging in a broad range of addictive behaviors.”  Although most people tend to gain weight in the winter time, there is really no better time to get in shape (HERE).

  • DON’T WORRY; VACCINES ARE ON THE WAY:  A couple of weeks ago I warned you that if legislation is passed to force Americans to receive certain vaccinations, there will be no stopping the onslaught of vaccines you will be forced to take (HERE).  Of the hundreds of vaccines currently in the R&D pipeline (that’s correct; nearly 300), many are specifically formulated for addictions.  Because we know how closely sugar and food addictions are related to drug addictions, extrapolate this information.  Last August’s issue of Vaccine (Adjuvants for Vaccines to Drugs of Abuse and Addiction) stated that, Vaccines to drugs of abuse, including nicotine, cocaine, heroin, oxycodone, methamphetamine, and others are being developed…  The role of adjuvants during immunization plays a critical role.”  Right now, the two most common adjuvants in vaccines are MERCURY AND ALUMINUM.  Mercury is the single most toxic non-radioactive element on our planet, and aluminum is heavily associated with those ‘fun’ neurological diseases such as ALZHEIMER’S.  Lest you think I am hyping this; feast your eyes on this.  The only adjuvant that has been included in candidate vaccines in human clinical trials to nicotine and cocaine has been aluminum hydroxide gel. While aluminum salts have been widely utilized worldwide in numerous licensed vaccines, the experience with human responses to aluminum salt-adjuvanted vaccines to haptenic drugs of abuse has suggested that the immune responses are too weak to allow development of a successful vaccine. Based on our review of the field we recommend the following adjuvant combinations either for research or for product development for human use: aluminum salt with adsorbed monophosphoryl lipid A or L(MPLA) adsorbed to aluminum salt…..”   No extrapolation needed for this next study.  The “Obesity Vaccine” is on the way.  Take a quick peek at the January, 2014 issue of The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Vaccine Research (Prophylactic and Therapeutic Vaccines for Obesity), with 45 different studies in the bib.  First we have public health officials wanting to put STATIN DRUGS IN THE WATER SUPPLY — and now this.  One of these ‘Obesity Vaccines’ blocks the effects of the hormone Ghrelin by purposefully inducing an AUTOIMMUNE-LIKE attack.  “Ghrelin is an appetite-regulating hormone and a contributor to mealtime hunger. The levels of ghrelin increase before meals and decrease after feeding. Ghrelin has a wide range of biological functions. In particular, it promotes weight gain by increasing the appetite and food intake, while reducing the energy expenditure. However this vaccine could cause emotional side effects.

  • HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF FOOD ADDICTION:  Functional Neurologist and Chiropractor, Dr. David Seaman has dedicated a great deal of time to the issue of diet not only as it relates to addiction (HERE and HERE), but as it relates to Inflammation and Chronic Pain (HERE).  Dr. Seaman’s review of the scientific literature titled Weight Gain as a Consequence of Living a Modern Lifestyle: A Discussion of Barriers to Effective Weight Control and how to Overcome Them, covers a lot of ground.  The most important statement Seaman makes in this article is that, “Recent research has identified multiple factors associated with the modern lifestyle that promote weight gain and obesity. Maintaining sedentary lifestyles and the over-consumption of calorie-dense refined foods are the primary problems. Although the typical charge against refined foods is that their high caloric content is what leads to weight gain, additional problems have been identified and should be understood. Refined carbohydrates reduce energy expenditure, promote postprandial inflammation and insulin resistance, and stimulate neural addiction pathways. During the weight gain process, the hypothalamus becomes resistant to insulin and leptin, which leads to increased caloric consumption and further adipose accumulation. In addition, the modern lifestyle is associated with several behavioral factors that facilitate weight gain, such as eating too quickly, a lack of sleep, high stress levels, and a lack of physical activity. As adipose mass is accumulated, the body weight set point is altered, which leads to metabolic changes that function to resist weight loss efforts when attempted.” 


I’ve discussed at length many of these same issues found in the previous paragraph.  BLOOD SUGAR REGULATION (including INSULIN RESISTANCE, which is also known as “Pre-Diabetes”), STRESS, lack of sleep (HERE and HERE), HYPOTHALAMUS ISSUES, ENDOCRINE ISSUES, PROBLEMS WITH GUT HEALTH, INFLAMMATION (Obesity itself is considered “Inflammatory” — HERE), what type of EXERCISE IS BEST, BEST WEIGHT LOSS METHODS, etc, etc, etc.   If you really want the straight scoop on all these issues and more, I would suggest you take a few minutes from your busy day to read THIS POST.  I am very aware that it’s not going to be the solution for everyone — especially those of you who have neuro-endocrine issues. But it’s a great starting point for almost everyone. 

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