ARE BREAD, SWEETS, AND OTHER CARBS AS ADDICTIVE AS HARD DRUGS?
Junk carbs (fast-burning carbs) provide the user a cocaine-like rush (HERE). In fact, the question we need to be asking is not whether or not carbs are addictive, but how addictive are they? For many of us, particularly women, processed carbs are the straw that stirs the drink. Today we are going to address the ins and outs of this issue as well as the various things you can do to break the cycle of addiction; craving carbs -----> carb binge ------> carbohydrate high (jacked up blood sugar and adrenal response) ------> carbohydrate low / crash (blood sugar bottoms out) -----> depression ------> craving carbs -------> repeat ad infinitum. Throw in numerous related disease processes along the way (OBESITY, ADRENAL FATIGUE, DIABETES, Heart Disease, CANCER, etc, etc), and you'll soon agree that over-consuming sugar and JUNK CARBS is the major driver of ill health in America.
How addictive are these foods? For a significant portion of the American population, junk carbs are more addictive than cocaine. A 2007 French study that we will mention again (University of Bordeaux) showed that when given a choice, rats chose sugar over Cocaine. Follow along as I show you many similar studies, as well as the effects that unbridled carb consumption has on neurotransmitters and brain function in relationship to addiction.
Research from New Zealand says that carbs might be as addictive as cigarettes. Dr. Simon Thornily, whose team worked out of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service and was published in the medical journal Medical Hypotheses, had this to say, "Heavily processed carbohydrates such as cornflakes, sweets and croissants quickly raise the amount of sugar in your blood. This rush of sugar stimulates the same areas of the brain that are involved with addiction to nicotine and other drugs."
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of NUTRITION, diet, and food addictions. Her Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Psychology is from Princeton University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular biology at The Rockefeller University in New York City. In other words, she is a smart cookie. Dr. Avena says that rats exposed to lots of sugar makes them exhibit the kind of behavior commonly seen in drug junkies ----- withdrawal, depression, anxiety, binges, cravings, altered personality, etc. This is because sugar stimulates the body to make Dopamine (a "feel good" neurotransmitter that affects the part of the brain related pleasure ----- the same part of the brain that coke and meth both stimulate). Shortly, we will delve deeper into this premise that processed carbs and grain-based junk food are not really that different from some of the more common street drugs as far as their effects on the brain are concerned.
But from as long as I can remember, dietary fat was the Great Satan --- the derailer of health that could ruin your heart while making you fat. Not carbs. Carbs were good good clean fuel. In fact, I was taught that dietary fat is the only thing that could make you fat. But the truth is, we could live our whole lives and never eat any carbohydrates. Think about it this way; there are Essential Fatty Acids and Essential Amino Acids (the building blocks of proteins). There are no Essential Carbohydrates other than glucose --- a sugar that our body can readily / easily manufacture from both fats or proteins (think of the Eskimos here --- or VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON). In fact, there is a growing number of scientists who believe that we should be seriously restricting non-vegetation-based carbs. This stands to reason with all the research coming out on the topic, including this quip from from a 2010 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) telling us that, "[carbohydrates are] a nutrient for which humans have no absolute requirement". The study was headed by a renowned Endocrinologist at Harvard University.
Most of us were taught that a person’s weight is the result of food intake compared to their energy expenditure. I will have a blog post up within the week showing that this is simply not true. It is stupefying that we still have a medical community preaching a dietary message that was popular when I was in school --- that you should reduce both dietary fat intake and total calories if you want to lose weight (along with incorporation some sort of cardo-based exercise program). This is what I was taught in school and what I believed (Kansas State University's Nutrition / Exercise Physiology program). The truth is, however, that obesity is a function of what you eat, far more than it is a function of how much you eat. Too many carbs will not only make you fat, they are maximally addictive. You don't believe me? Even city folk know that the best way to fatten a beef is with grain / corn. So, what is our government (USDA) doing with this tidbit of common sense information? Of course, they are telling us to eat even more processed carbs. Still don't believe me? Look at their Food Pyramid
Although there are many problems with this Pyramid, the most glaring has to do with carbs. Just think in terms of cattle here, if you are eating 6-11 servings of grains a day, you will not only have problems with your weight, you are likely to struggle with AUTOIMMUNITY as well. That's right; one of the biggest factors in our national epidemic of Autoimmune Diseases (between 25 - 50% of the American population has one or more) has to do with the body's reactivity to our 'new' grains --- grains that have been seriously tinkered with genetically (HERE). Autoimmunity is literally taking over our country, and is being tied directly to grains (GLUTEN) by study after scientific study. Oh, and isn't it special that in their scientific brilliance, they are categorizing potatoes as vegetables. And in the same way that Dr. Joel Fuhrman makes unscientific comparisons (red meat to sugar) on his Food Pyramid, the USDA is doing something similar. They are comparing all dietary fats to sugar.
USDA guidelines say, "Sugars and starches provide energy to the body in the form of glucose, which is the only source of energy for red blood cells and is the preferred energy source for the brain". This is a completely true statement. But it is a half truth. While it is true that the brain has to have fuel in the form of glucose (a simple carbohydrate), this glucose can be easily manufactured by the body from both fats and proteins. It can even come from vegetables (remember that corn is a grain, not a vegetable).
As crazy as it sounds, the diet above is still being promoted by both ADA's (American Dietetic Association & American Diabetic Association) as well as the AMA (American Medical Association). Their official recommendation is to get about 55% of our caloric intake in the form of carbs (grains, potatoes, pasta, cereal, breads, etc). We are told to decrease protein (they claim it is harmful to the kidneys), decrease fat (they claim it makes you fat and causes heart disease), and eat a minimum of 130 grams of carbs / day (I am not making this up). And although this thought process is starting to change, I cannot tell you how many diabetics, pre-diabetics, or folks with Metabolic Syndrome have been told to eat more carbs and keep fat intake to a minimum if they have any hope of turning their health around. Even Dr. Oz has promoted (and continues to promote) this sort of thinking on some level (HERE).
Part of the problem with this dietary conundrum is that although we may all be using the same language, we are probably talking about very different things. What do I mean by this? Technically speaking, green leafy vegetables are carbohydrates. But so is white toast with cinnamon and sugar on top. Is there a difference? Darn straight there is! The same is true when we talk about proteins and fats. Is your dairy raw organic, or is it pasteurized, homogenized, fat-free, and loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones? Is your fish, wild, cold-water fish or was it farm raised in warm waters (only wild fish has high levels of EPA & DHA)? Do the eggs you eat come from free-range hens, or were they laid in a commercial egg farm by chickens that were fed grain? And what about your meat? Is it grass fed and organically raised (or wild, i.e. venison)? Or did it come from a feed lot where it is fed grain along with antibiotics, GROWTH HORMONES, and heaven only knows what else? The bottom line is that the more processed your food source, the worse it's going to be for you, the more reactive it is likely to be, and it is much more likely to be addictive as well. Just understand when I use the term "carbs" in this post, I am speaking of High Glycemic Index carbs --- or carbs that are rapidly converted to blood sugar (Glucose).
JUST HOW ADDICTIVE ARE CARBS?
There are those of you reading this post who, like the author of the response above, have no outward or overt problem with carbs, and no manifestation of carb addiction. In fact some of you think that this is all a bunch of hooey. But the truth is, many of you reading this post would gladly sacrifice your life for a fix. And rest assured, many of you who have no problem with carb addiction today, will more than understand what I am talking about in the future. How do I know this? For one thing, I AM YOU. Follow along while I expound.
It is no big revelation that sugar is related to cancer. If you Google "SUGAR FEEDS CANCER", you will find a few articles knocking the idea, and a ton of information supporting it. Just understand that cancer cells utilize sugar differently than normal cells. The great OTTO WARBURG was one of the most brilliant scientists (biochemist) the world has ever seen. After all, how many people have won three Nobel Prizes? One of the prizes was for figuring out that cancer cells make energy differently than normal cells --- not via the oxidation of fat, but from the break down of sugar (glycolysis). In other words, Warburg believed he had found the key to curing cancer clear back in the 1930's. He believed that this difference in metabolism was the main thing that separated cancer from non-cancer (it's actually known as the "Warburg Effect"). Be aware that much (probably most) of the scientific community pooh poohs the idea that cancer is related to sugar. But I regress. Let me show you how this topic is related to sugar / starch addiction.
A few years ago at the University of Würzburg in Germany, a team of doctors ran a study on the effects of a KETOGENIC DIET (virtually zero carbohydrates ---- the Atkins Induction Phase) on cancer. Time Magazine reported in their September 17, 2007 issue that, "for five patients who were able to endure three months of carb-free eating, the results were positive: the patients stayed alive, their physical condition stabilized or improved, and their tumors slowed or stopped growing, or shrunk." Wow, looks like a potential way to tame the tiger that we call cancer. But unfortunately, most dropped out of the study because they could not adhere to a carb-free diet. The researcher's leader, Dr. Melanie Schmidt, sounded frustrated when she stated that, "we didn’t expect this to be such a big problem, but a considerable number of patients left the study because they were unable or unwilling to renounce soft drinks, chocolate and so on." Wow! Great results with cancer in just three months, but most patients could not adhere to the diet. Such is the sway that sugar and junk carbs have over great numbers of people that they will potentially forfeit their life for their fix.
WHAT DOES CARB ADDICTION LOOK LIKE?
Dr. Schierling completed four years of Kansas State University's five-year Nutrition / Exercise Physiology Program before deciding on a career in Chiropractic. He graduated from Logan Chiropractic College in 1991, and has run a busy clinic in Mountain View, Missouri ever since. He and his wife Amy have four children (three daughters and a son).