Sugar addiction and withdrawal: What you need to know

Posted on Jun 29, 2016

by: Dena Schmidt

(NaturalHealth365) If you have a sweet tooth and would like to reduce your intake or stop eating sugar altogether, you should be aware that sugar addiction is very real. In fact, addiction to sugar triggers some of the same addictive responses and withdrawal symptoms as drug addiction.

However, what gets tricky with sugar is that it is a food, not an illicit substance. It is perfectly legal to buy sweets from the store and consume them. However, the same can be said for alcohol; that doesn’t mean having it in excess is healthy for you.

The anatomy of a sugar addiction

Eating sugar triggers the mesolimbic pathway and reward center. In this process, any pleasurable activity can cause specific neurons to trigger the production of dopamine, one of the body’s feel-good chemicals. This in turn signals the nucleus accumbens region.

The nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex handle decision-making and motor movement related to pleasure. This mechanism can cause a sugar-addicted person to reach for more candy or another slice of cake. Hormones are activated that create cellular memory of the experience, and eating sweets (or any other pleasurable experience) is more likely to be craved in the future.

sugar addict

Why it’s harder to stop eating sugar than other foods

While this mechanism can be triggered while eating any food we enjoy, it is stronger for foods like sweets and carbohydrates in most people. This is because the brain’s pleasure center and mesolimbic pathway have evolved to reward eating foods that bring us energy. Sugar and carbohydrates are an efficient source of energy in small amounts; however, in excess, they can elevate blood glucose to dangerous levels.

A study by The Obesity Society has determined that since 1977, sugar consumption by Americans has risen by at least 30 percent.  Like drugs, sugar causes a spike in dopamine in the brain.  Consuming sugar regularly eventually changes gene expression and alters dopamine receptors.  Over time, more sugar is needed for the same pleasurable response – fueling the sugar addiction like a drug addiction.

Sugar withdrawal symptoms similar to substance abuse withdrawal

Sugar addiction is very real, and cravings can hijack the brain’s reward pathway, causing dependence. When trying to stop eating sugar cold turkey, sugar withdrawal symptoms similar to drug detox can result.

Sugar withdrawal symptoms often include emotional responses like anxiety, depression, anger, irritability and mood swings. Physical symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, flu-like symptoms and trembling. Other changes such as an increase in cravings, appetite fluctuations, insomnia or other sleep pattern changes can also result.

The best approach to overcoming a sugar addiction is to stop eating sugar gradually. Replace sugary foods with healthier options like moderate amounts of fruit and healthy carbohydrates. Doing so can assist with avoiding the worst of sugar withdrawal symptoms while embracing a new, healthier lifestyle.


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