Did You Know Sugar Can Cause Pain?
If you know me, then you know that I do enjoy desserts (especially chocolate) from time to time. My family and I went camping this weekend and one of the favorite parts for all of us was making and eating s'mores. It was the ritual of it, the mess, and of course the taste, that made it so special. I'm all for sugar on these special occasions. But too much sugar, eaten on a daily basis, can create havoc within your system. Sugar is known to be one of the biggest causes of the obesity epidemic in the United States. One of the things I'm most concerned about though with sugar and my patients is that it causes inflammation and inflammation has many negative effects, including pain.
What Is Sugar?
Sugars are simple carbohydrates, which means they are small molecules that are easy to digest and break apart so our cells can use them. Unlike complex carbohydrates, they don’t stick around in our digestive system for long. The moment we ingest sugar, the body goes to work on breaking it down. Once the simple sugars enter our bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin in order to reduce the the blood sugar level and carry it into cells for immediate use or storage. Shortly after that comes the crash in energy that we are all too familiar with.
Why Sugar Is Bad
Sugar is Directly Linked to Weight Gain
Dieticians are learning that the assumption we operated under for years, that fat is the leading cause of weight gain, is wrong. In fact, sugar plays a bigger role in weight gain than dietary fat does. Moreover, recent studies are revealing that having excess fat reduces your body’s ability to manage sugar in an effective manner. Scientists have been looking closely at soda, which is primarily made of sugar, and monitoring the weight of teens as they cut out the sugary soft drinks in favor of non-caloric drinks. A 2006 study at the Children’s Hospital Boston showed that the teens who cut down their intake of soda by 82% lost weight compared to the control group who did not. Those who consume more sugar, generally weigh more.
Sugar Causes Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to invading threats - toxins, germs, pollutants, stress, and other harmful effects. In the short term, this is good. You want your body to increase the line of defense to initiate the healing process. However, our bodies can become chronically inflamed which leads to many degenerative diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Sugar is very inflammatory. It causes our cells to overheat, essentially cooking themselves and producing friction, leading them to deteriorate more quickly.
Sugar is Addictive
When we do something that we like, a bundle of neurons sends dopamine to our prefrontal cortex. This system is called the mesolimbic pathway, and has evolved in all animals for survival purposes. Certain foods (such as sugar) feel more rewarding to the brain because they are a very easy source of energy and indicate that a food is safe to eat, compared to sour or bitter flavors, which can indicate “poison!” Unfortunately, our evolution keeps us going back to sugar even though we live in a modern society with plentiful food of all kinds. It can hijack the mesolimbic pathway and make one dependent on it, in the same way one can become addicted to nicotine, cocaine, or heroin. Eating sugar spikes the release of dopamine in the short term, and in the long term the brain starts to adapt to this dopamine release, requiring more sugar for the same “high.”
How To Reduce Your Sugar Intake
The easiest way to cut back on sugar is to go cold turkey. It takes about three or four days before your cravings subside. After this period of time, the sugar that used to taste delicious, will seem too sweet. At this point you can switch to dark chocolate and low sugar sweets. Paleo recipes online often provide low sugar tasty desserts. It is also important to avoid processed foods and refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, etc). These contain lots of hidden sugars. Most important is to cut out sugary drinks like sodas and juice altogether. You can replace the sugary foods with healthy fats (avocados and coconut are good choices) and proteins, which take longer for the body to break down and leave you feeling fuller longer. For cravings, eat fruit - fructose is a form of sugar found in fruit and has a less dramatic effect on blood sugar and insulin, and also contains fiber which improves digestion. For healthier sugar alternatives, try agave syrup or malted barley, because they have more fructose than traditional sugar. Stevia is a natural calorie-free herb made from a South American shrub, but not everyone likes the way it tastes, so try it first to see if you like it.
While the occasional sugary snack won’t have catastrophic effects, if you are eating too much sugar on a regular basis then it’s time to make a change. Inflammation, weight gain, and addiction are some of the bigger effects of sugar on the body, but scientists are learning more and more about the detrimental effects of sugar on the body every day. If you can, go cold turkey on the sugar. But at the very least, cut out the sodas and juices and replace the refined carbs with fruit and healthy fats.
Still feeling sore and inflamed? Call us at 510-922-1579 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment to free yourself from pain.
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