The average American consumes somewhere between two to three pounds of sugar each week. Over the last twenty years, our national sugar consumption exploded from 26 pounds to 135 pounds of sugar—per person—annually. Compare that to sugar consumption in the late 1800s, when the average consumption was five pounds per person-per year. A time, incidentally, when heart disease and cancer were virtually unknown.
While your brain requires a pretty constant supply of the blood sugar product glucose in order to function properly, constantly eating refined sugars and slurping down sodas does not provide the best route for sugar intake. On the contrary, researchers at the Salk Institute in California found that high glucose levels resulting from quick, easy sugar intake slowly but surely damage cells everywhere in the body, especially those in the brain.
Unfortunately, having too little glucose and having too much glucose are both problematic. When your blood sugar levels drop, your hypothalamus sends out a distress signal that leads to the release of adrenaline to your liver, ordering it to turn excess fat into glucose.
When you consume too much sugar, your pancreas secretes insulin to nudge that extra sugar into your cells, and too much insulin can deplete your normal glucose levels, depress your immune system, and lead to kidney disease.
Plus, excess insulin also promotes fat storage, which sets up a vicious cycle. Either extreme can leave you feeling woozy, nervous, fatigued, and shaky.
Two additional reasons why excess refined sugar is detrimental to your brain:
- A research group at the University of Wisconsin found that the brain may react to excess refined sugars found in food as if they were a virus or bacteria. The resulting immune response may cause cognitive deficits such as those associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
- High blood sugar coupled with performing a mentally challenging task is associated with high levels of cortisol—a stress hormone known to impair memory.
In other words, that second piece of cake at the company birthday party might stress out you, your body, and your brain . . . and affect your afternoon work efficiency!
Your Brain on Sugar
It’s pretty clear—excessive glucose in the form of refined sugar can be very detrimental to your brain, ultimately affecting your attention span, your short-term memory, and your mood stability. Excessive refined sugar can:
- Block membranes and thereby slow down neural communication.
- Increase free radical inflammatory stress on your brain. Free radicals can rupture cells.
- Interfere with synaptic communication.
- Cause neurons to misfire and send erroneous messages that take time and energy to sort out.
- Increase delta, alpha, and theta brain waves, which make it harder to think clearly.
- Can eventually damage your neurons.
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Sugar?
Not really . . . a simple sugar is a simple sugar. However, those occurring in real food, such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk, also provide other nutrients so are slightly more healthy than any other sugar. And even though health food stores love to promote honey, molasses, maple syrup, or agave as natural sweeteners, they are still simple sugars, with the same fattening calories and little nutritive value as refined white sugar. They do, however, tend to be a tad sweeter, so maybe you’ll be happier with a smaller amount, but don’t kid yourself about them being healthier. Sugar is sugar, and you need to limit how much you consume on a daily basis.
Go Light on the Honey, Honey
Although honey is a natural sweetener, 96 percent of honey consists of the simple sugars fructose, glucose, and sucrose. Honey also has the highest calorie content of all sugars with 65 calories per tablespoon, compared to the 48 calories per tablespoon found in table sugar. The increased calories are bound to cause increased blood serum fatty acids, as well as weight gain, on top of the risk of more cavities.
Why Soda Crashes and Burns Your System
Your brain uses 65 percent of your body’s glucose, but too much or too little glucose can have a detrimental effect on brain function. One can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of table sugar, all of which floods into a blood stream that typically contains a total of 4 teaspoons of blood sugar. The rush alerts your pancreas to release a lot of insulin. Some sugar is quickly ushered into the cells, including brain cells, and the rest goes into storage or into fat cells. An hour later, your blood sugar may fall dramatically, creating low blood sugar, and these rapid swings produce symptoms of impaired memory and clouded thinking.
Actually we have studies dating back to the 1970’s and even earlier showing that the entire cycle of sugar and carbohydrate addiction is induced by a deficiency of serotonin. Serotonin is known to be the “happy” neurotransmitter and it can only be made in the brain from protein. Because sugar does nothing to replenish depleted serotonin, it’s hard to break the addiction cycle.
The natural food supplements L-tryptophan and 5HTP provide the brain with more of the raw material it needs to make serotonin. The same studies mentioned above also showed that when people take these supplements in appropriate doses their cravings abate and their consumption of carbohydrates and overall calories decrease. (J Pharm Pharmacol 1975 Jan; 27 (1): 31-7; Brain Res Bull 1986 Nov; 17 (5): 681-9; Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1986 Oct; 25 (4): 711-6; J Neurol Transm 1989; 76 (2): 109-17).
Armed with this knowledge, physician Marty Hinz, MD, has built a large and successful practice focused entirely on treating weight problems with these types of supplements. Dr. Hinz has also stated repeatedly that in his experience – spanning more than a decade and thousands of patients – these amino acid (protein) supplements work better for appetite control than any medication, including the ill-fated phen-fen combination. For more on Dr. Hinz and his work visit www.neuroreplete.com.