Dr. Mark Hyman: 8 Ways to Kick Your Sugar Addiction
“I love junk food and I can’t stop craving it,” a reader posted on my Facebook page. “What do I do?”
If you can identify with my reader, you’re not alone. Of the more than 600,000 food products—note I said food products, not food—80 percent have added sugar.
We went from eating about 10 pounds of sugar per person, per year in 1800 to 152 pounds of sugar (and 146 pounds of flour) per person, per year today. Think about it: On average we eat about one pound of sugar every day!
Those sugar-loaded foods literally become drugs: Doses of sugar and flour that hijack our metabolism and make us fat and sick.
Many patients tell me once they dive into a box of chips or cookies, they literally can’t stop eating. Have you ever wondered why you would devour a box of cookies but you wouldn’t binge on wild salmon?
The reason isn’t because you lack self-discipline or are weak-willed. You are not emotionally weak or lazy. You are biologically addicted to sugar and willpower doesn’t work here.
The good news is that I have something that does work. But let’s take a quick look at what created that addiction.
The Science of Sugar Addiction
A powerful study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition proves that higher-sugar, higher-glycemic foods are addictive in the same way as cocaine and heroin.
Dr. David Ludwig and his colleagues at Harvard proved that foods with more sugar—those that raise blood sugar quickly or have what is called a high-glycemic index—trigger a special region in the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This is your brain’s pleasure center that, when activated, makes you feel good and drives you to seek out more of that feeling. This area becomes ground zero for conventional addictions such as gambling and drug abuse.
The study ultimately proved two things:
- Your body responds quite differently to different calories, even if the protein, fat, carbs and taste are exactly the same.
- Foods that spike blood sugar are biologically addictive.
That addiction triggers a vicious cycle of hunger and cravings that sets the stage for diabesity and other chronic diseases.
Constantly eating sugary foods causes a spike in your blood sugar which in turn, activates your brain’s pleasure center. This triggers more cravings and drives you to seek out more and more of the substance that gives you a “high.”
You become powerless against your brain’s hardwired response to seek out pleasure. No wonder you feel trapped.
Evolutionarily, we are programmed genetically to crave sugar and refined carbs. When we evolved as hunter-gatherers, we would binge on berries and honey when we could find it, so we would store fat for the upcoming winter.
That served us well when we hibernated and slept all winter, but that doesn’t happen today. Today we eat all winter: Not just naturally sugar-rich foods, but also the trillion Frankenfoods our ancestors wouldn’t have recognized.
Why Your Junk Food Addiction Isn’t Your Fault
How long can you hold your breath underwater?
That might seem like a strange question concerning sugar addiction, but if I tell you to use your willpower to hold your breath for 15 minutes and that I will give you a million dollars if you do, there is still no way you can do this.
Sure, you might try, but you would fail. That’s because we are programmed for certain needs like air, water, food, sleep and sex.
These things are essential to our survival. If you are addicted to sugar and I tell you to resist giving in to your cravings by using willpower, I might as well tell you to hold your breath for 15 minutes. It simply won’t work.
Nobody wants to be overweight or suffer the emotional or physical consequences of diabetes or obesity. But willpower simply isn’t enough to overcome the cravings for chips, cookies, soda and more.
We’re up against powerful biochemical mechanisms created by food addiction. Willpower becomes useless when industrial junk food and sugar are in charge of your brain chemistry.
Fake foods we’ve been introduced to in the 20th century—many of which contain high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars—have hijacked our brains, our hormones and our metabolism. These Frankenfoods have literally created a vicious cycle of hunger and cravings.
There is no such thing as junk food. There’s just junk and there’s food.
I have a simple yet radical proposal: Let’s send the trillion-dollar junk food industry a message and eat real food. That means foods nature created, which don’t come with barcodes, fake ingredients or an ingredient list at all.
To do that, we need to rewire our brains. A researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) told me the real regulator of our weight and metabolism isn’t our stomach, but our brain chemistry. The right foods send a message to your brain to shut down hunger and cravings so you burn fat and feel great. Sugary, processed foods send the opposite message.
The Right Mind Shift to Fight Cravings
Making the right choices to opt for real, whole, unprocessed foods becomes crucial to ditch the junk food habit, but so do your emotional triggers and emotional health.
Whenever you get a strong desire for a chocolate chip cookie or other junk food, ask yourself two questions:
- What am I feeling?
- What do I need? What we need does not involve stuffing your face, I can assure you of that.
We have a chance today to stop and detox, not only from junk food, but also from junk thoughts. We must de-clutter our bodies and our minds.
Breaking these addictions and rewiring your brain is easier than you might think. It doesn’t take weeks or months. These eight strategies can help:
- Eat real food. You need to eat fat and protein for each of your meals. Whole foods carbohydrates like veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds are perfectly healthy. Broccoli is broccoli. Processed, sugary junk foods are not real foods. They set the stage for sugar addiction and all its ugly consequences.
- Steady blood sugar levels. Eat a nutritious breakfast with some protein like eggs, protein shakes or nut butters. Studies repeatedly show that eating a healthy high-protein breakfast helps people maintain weight loss. Also, have smaller meals throughout the day. Eat every three to four hours and have some protein with each snack or meal (lean animal protein, nuts, seeds, beans). Avoid eating three hours before bedtime.
- Ditch sugar. Go cold turkey. If you are addicted to narcotics or alcohol you can’t simply just cut down. You have to stop for your brain to reset. You must eliminate refined sugars, sodas, fruit juices and artificial sweeteners from your diet. These are all drugs that fuel sugar addiction.
- Reduce stress. Stress eating and junk food go together. When you’re feeling stressed, you’re more likely to reach for that bag of chocolate chip cookies or whatever your vice might be. Learn to address the root cause of your stress and address it with something like yoga, meditation or deep breathing. My UltraCalm CD becomes a great way to melt away stress and anxiety and beat your junk food addiction.
- Exercise smartly. The next time you get a hankering for something sweet, walk it off, literally. Besides creating a healthy distraction to avoid nose diving into a pint of butter pecan ice cream, exercise tapers cravings and raises feel-good endorphin levels. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned athlete, you can find an easy-to-implement exercise plan here.
- Determine whether food sensitivities could be causing your cravings. We often crave the very foods that we have a hidden allergy to, including gluten, dairy and sugar.
- Sleep well. Ever notice you’re hungrier for something sugary after a terrible night’s sleep? Studies show lack of sleep increases cravings. To get eight hours of solid sleep every night, check out these 19 tips here.
- Implement crave-cutting supplements. These include vitamin D and omega-3s. Also consider taking natural supplements for cravings control. Glutamine, tyrosine and 5-HTP are amino acids that help reduce cravings. Stress-reducing herbs such as Rhodiola rosea can also help. Chromium balances blood sugar and can help take the edge off cravings. Glucomannan fiber is very helpful to reduce the spikes in sugar and insulin that drive cravings and hunger. You can find all of these and other crave-busting supplements in my store.
To permanently bust sugar cravings, I highly recommend you read and implement The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. I’ve specifically designed this book to help you conquer your addiction in, yes, just 10 days.
Simply following the exact instructions in The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet will help you quickly reset your brain chemistry and gain back control over your eating behavior. You don’t have to struggle to let go of your cravings; your cravings will naturally let go of you.
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Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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By Laura Beil
Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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