My best friend’s an addict. Her brain has learnt to recognise this substance as a reward when things go right and a comfort when things go wrong. Her anticipation causes a biochemical reaction causing her to feel weak with cravings. Her drug is sugar.
The reward centre of the brain, a part of the hypothalamus, (containing nerve cells, called Orexin) is activated with the conditioned anticipation of sweet foods. Orexin then wakes up a hormone called insulin which controls the amount of sugar in in the blood stream. Insulin instructs blood cells when to store or release sugar. Once given the nudge by orexin, insulin instructs the blood cells to release sugar in to the skeletal muscles (muscles you voluntarily move), which are hungry for sugar.
In the space of a few milliseconds of thinking about sugary treats, sugar has been transferred from the blood to the muscles causing low blood sugar levels and creating feelings of weakness and cravings’, tricking your body into feeling like it needs sugar.
It’s not just my friend that has an addiction, it’s society. You may be addicted but are in denial. It tastes so good, and it makes you feel good, it’s just like a reward.
So… If you just have sugar as a treat, as a reward it’s ok right? Wrong! The more sugar that you have to reward yourself the more your brain links sugar with reward and therefore learns to anticipate it with rewarding situations. This is how we have come to reward ourselves with sweets if we do exercise and if we have been eating healthy for a couple of days.
Combine the bombardment of advertising with the sugar overload in products and this biological trick is likely to cause you a lot of health problems.
The more sugar you consume, the greater chance you have of blood cells ignoring the instructions given to them by insulin. In the same way that teenagers ignore instructions from their parents. This is one of the major factors that lead to type 2 diabetes.
Sure, it’s your choice how you live your life, you control what you want to eat but it’s also your choice if you want to increase your risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Until society’s attitudes towards sugar change, we will continue to see sugar and its advertisements sustaining addictions worldwide, and the cases of Diabetes and obesity increase worldwide.
Just like tobacco and many addictive substances, sugar is a struggle to resist. Like these substances, it doesn’t kill you outright; it takes away your quality of life, bit by sugary bit.