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Ask JJ: The Science Behind Sugar Addiction

Tell your doctor to step into the 21st century. Recent studies confirm what I've long found: The moderation myth ultimately paves a path for hunger, cravings, and weight loss resistance.
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Dear JJ: I'm reading more evidence showing sugar addiction is a very real thing, yet my doctor recently dismissed my idea that sugar could be a drug or resemble one. "Everything in moderation," he replied. Can you provide me some science to support my claim?

Tell your doctor to step into the 21st century. Recent studies confirm what I've long found: The moderation myth ultimately paves a path for hunger, cravings, and weight loss resistance.

Likewise, an ever-growing body of science validates sugar addiction. A new study in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience found sugar could become addictive in mice, adversely impacting neurotransmitters like dopamine that led them to gorge on the sweet stuff.

While many studies involve rodents, research shows sugar addiction can also occur in humans. If "just a few bites" easily becomes several pieces of your favorite dessert, you've had a glimpse into that addiction.

Pharmaceutical companies, for one, seem all too aware about sugar's detrimental impact, developing drugs that help us conquer our addiction.

In a new study published in PLoS One, researchers found varenicline, an FDA-approved nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonist that modulates dopamine, could significantly reduce long-term sugar consumption.

Researchers also found that long-term sugar adversely impacts the nucleus accumbens, your reward-associated brain region. "Taken together," they concluded, "our results suggest that nAChR drugs such as varenicline may represent a novel treatment strategy for reducing sugar consumption."

Rather than drugs or going cold turkey, I want you to break your sugar addiction by gradually tapering off high-sugar impact foods. Transitioning to a low-sugar impact diet reduces hunger and cravings, helps you burn fat, increases energy level, and reduces your disease risk.

Why should you taper off sugar? After all, some folks argue small amounts can fit into a healthy diet. The trouble becomes, what defines a small amount? Crossing that tricky, nebulous threshold into high-sugar impact eating contributes to numerous problems including an increased risk for cancer, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, and obesity.

While sugar has become front-and-center focus lately, many earlier studies focused instead on glycemic index (GI), a rating system designed to measure how much the food you eat affects your blood sugar levels. Pure glucose ranks highest at 100, and all other foods are measured accordingly. The higher its glycemic rating, the greater the effect a food will have on your blood sugar.

In other words, a high-glycemic diet usually becomes a high-sugar impact diet with all its addictive properties including hunger and cravings.

One study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found compared with a lower-sugar impact meal, a high-glycemic index (GI) meal makes you hungrier, "selectively stimulate[s] brain regions associated with reward and craving" after your meal, and even affects eating behavior at your next meal.

Studies show a high glycemic load can also increase colorectal, rectal and pancreatic cancer risks. Another in the Journal of PLoS ONE found high sugar sweetened beverages increased rate of death and recurrence of stage-3 colon cancer.

Other studies confirm a strong link between excess sugar and cancer. One in the European Journal for Nutrition found women who ate high-glycemic index foods increased their risk for endometrial cancer, and an epidemiological study in the Medical Hypotheses Journal found a connection between sugar consumption and breast cancer, especially among older women.

Sugar, particularly fructose, also increases your risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Studies find 20 - 30 percent of adults suffer from NAFLD. For obese adults that number increases to 80 - 90 percent. Even children are taking the hit: NAFLD affects 40 - 70 percent of obese children.

In fact, a recent review in the Journal of Digestive Diseases and Sciences found fructose more significantly impacts NAFLD than does a high-fat diet. Researchers concluded reducing fructose could decrease NAFLD from progressing.

Another study, this one in the Journal of Hepatology, concluded sugar-sweetened beverages posed a risk for NAFLD.

Then there's brain health. One study in Current Alzheimer Research found high insulin levels adversely impact brain function and increase your risk for Alzheimer's disease.

And a review in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care found reducing sugar could positively impact Type 2 diabetes and your risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Perhaps most obvious, sugar fuels obesity. Statistics show almost 35 percent of American adults are obese. Dr. Mark Hyman adds almost 70 percent of Americans are overweight or one in two Americans has pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes. Indeed, epidemiological studies associate sugar with fat gain.

"Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance," researchers urge. No kidding.

I could go on, but a growing number of studies validate how high-sugar impact diets create addiction with its vast health-robbing repercussions. Tell your doctor to get up-to-date with his research and show him this blog if he wants further proof.

Do you agree sugar addiction can be a very real thing or does it sound overly alarmist or hyperbolic? Share your thoughts below, and keep those fab questions coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.