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30

Jun
Sugar & Brain

Sugar & Brain

Other than the 60 ailments mentioned in previous month article, new research now suggests that excessive amount of sugar, especially the fructose in sugary drinks might damage your brain. And this indicates how important reading nutrition information as well as the ingredients contained in food product. Sugar addiction begins when the cravings for anything that contains the sweet ingredients happened.

Have you ever wonder what cause us crave and get addicted to sugar?

Eating sugar contained food leads the brain to release opiates that create sensations of pleasure, as a “reward” for performing functions essential for the survival of both the individual and the species, such as eating or reproducing. These hormones usually help in relieving pain and are triggered in the same way one who consume illegal drugs. Therefore, sugar-rich diets generate heightened reward signals, just like drugs effect, so that the more sugar you have, the more you want. As the receptors in our tongue are being highly stimulated, it results in our brain that sending out excessive reward signals whenever we eat something with sugar contains, which usually ended up overriding our self-control mechanisms and then lead to addition.

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The VTA (Ventral tegmental area) in the midbrain processes information about how well various needs are being met and transfers this data to the nucleus accumbens in the basal ganglia, via dopamine, a kind of neurotransmitter in our brain. The more dopamine, the greater the pleasure, and the more likely the action will be repeated in the future. This explains how sugar-rich diets bring pleasure and leads to repetitive behaviour, gradually it becomes addiction.

To be more precise, your sugar addiction may be inherited or genetically affected.

In studies done in 2011 and 2012, the appetite inducing hormone, ghrelin was found to correlate with higher level of sugar (and alcohol) intakes. It is the type of hormone that inform the brain that you are hungry. With the genetic changes in this hormone, a person will still crave for higher calories of food even if he or she is already full. Therefore, it is believed that Ghrelin is involved in reward-based feeding and cause delays in ending a meal. These researchers think that your ghrelin release is affected by whether or not you seek to enhance your neurological reward system through your sweet tooth, which was mentioned earlier in this article.

Knowing that how sugar caused addiction in our brain, we shall also look into the effect of sugar in the brain other than the ailments that been mentioned in previous article.

How sugar affects our brain?

Recalling back those days when I was younger, I probably consumed more sugar than I should have, for me being bigger in body size as compared to my peers. For body image concern, I started to cut down my sugar level intake by saying “NO” to candies and started having dark chocolate, which is much bitter in taste. That does help a little in slimming down as for the saying, “you are what you eat”. However, what is more important here is what people around me realized. I responded faster, having better concentration in class (as reported by teacher) and getting more extrovert (this is definitely different from hyperactive as I was much introvert, with lots of running thoughts and high level of anxiety) as compared to initial. Unfortunately, growing up at a rural area, my parents whom are not highly educated, never realized the effect of sugars and credited all these improvements to my school teachers as well as spending more on those costly tuition classes, expecting to see more academic improvements. I should be able to enjoy my childhood back then if my parents were told or educated about the effect of sugars, rather than focusing on somewhere else where minimal improvements may be seen.

So, you might be thinking, how could sugar affect that much in your kids or yourselves? Yes, sugar can actually sap your brain power as well as accelerating the aging process. Have you ever monitored how your kids behave after having candies? From a blog that I had read before, a mom talked about how sugar leads to the crankiness in her daughter, as well as emotional instability in adults (herself and her husband). It may also lead to difficulty in concentration, reduces learning capacity and may cause learning disorders that would affect school children’s grades as well as causing drowsiness, which results in decreased activity in children. As sugar may also cause rapid rise of adrenaline that could have led to hyperactivity and/ or anxiety. It may even increase the risk of antisocial behaviour. This may sounds very extreme but sugar does have different effects in children, depending on how the brain and body reacts to it. Besides, a recent study in 2012 found that excessive sugar consumption relates to deficiencies in memory and overall cognitive health, in layman term, it affects the brain health. As early as 2009, glucose intakes has been found to be related to the aging of our cells, not only the wrinkles to be seen physically but could also be those chronic disease that occurred much earlier as compared to previous years.

Thinking of kicking away high sugar level consumption?

Anyhow it's better late than never.

1. Appeal to your emotions. Sometimes, when you crave food, it could be triggered by an emotional need such as wanting to relieve stress or feel a little bit happier after a tiring day. More often than not, people tend to ignore their emotions when considering whether to eat healthy or otherwise. This will then relate to the valuing behaviour, which one do you prioritize first, food or your health concerns? This may be more difficult to apply on your kids, but modelling will definitely help, as “monkey sees monkey do”. If they aren’t offered or see adults around them having sugary food, they might not request that often.

2. Reduce the amount of the sugar. This would work if you keep the boundaries on a daily basis, below 25 grams to be exact – including what you get from fruits.

3.Read the label and avoid sweeteners. Fructose corn syrup is a sweetener that is made from corn and found in many of the food items that we eat and drink today. Now, this is considered to be deadly not only because of the amount of sugar that goes in it, but also because of the health risks that can it can cause. When you start reading labels, you are on the way achieving the healthy lifestyle, and so do your kids! To know more about fructose overload, do check out the picture underneath.

4. Choosing a well-balanced diet tailored to your specific body type. Every individual is different, not only in their personalities and characteristics but also their body types (e.g. nutrition level, toxics level, oxidization level). Get yourself a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) and know your body better as that will help the practitioner to know better and to provide a diet plan tailored to your life style and body type. With extra emphasis on food rich in fiber will slow down the absorption of sugar, and food rich in high quality omega-3 fats (e.g. Fisol3 fish oil) are also crucial to lessening the impact of eating excessive sugar. In addition, avoiding food with high sugar content and constantly rehydrating with fresh and pure water are also recommended. However, with a better understanding of your body type, that will fasten the time spent on trial and error type of diet change, as well as saving yourself from digging much from your wallet.

5. Getting enough sleep and managing your stress levels. As your cravings increase if you did not get enough sleep and this will affect your mood as well as your stress level. You may find that you have more binge eating, especially on high sugary food if you did not have enough sleep the day before or during the day when you are on deadlines or assessments. 

6. Exercising every day, along with optimizing your vitamin D levels. Exercise in particular is known to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce stress levels, suppress ghrelin (the appetite hormone), speed up metabolism, strengthen bones, and boost your mood. It will also help in managing your stress levels for the neurotransmitter being released during exercise.

However, it is still recommended to have moderate sugar intake as it is essential to our body. It supply us energy for our daily activities as a carbohydrate that all of our cells would be in used. It can be quite difficult to say no to sugary food, especially after a long term exposure, I did apply most of the method and realized that emotions could be the main factor of cravings, once you are in control with your emotions as well as cravings, it gets much easier. Trust me, it will be worth it once you feel and see the effects that lowering your sugar intake has on your kids and your own body.

fructose-overload-infographic - Vernice

Contributed by:

Vernice Si Toh

Psychologist of Spectrum of Life