Sugar Sensitivity-Basic Information

Do you feel tired a lot, or sometimes confused, restless, anxious, or depressed?

Do you take on too much because you can’t seem to say “no” to people?

Does your mood change depending on what you’ve eaten?

Do you sometimes crave sweets-especially when you’re not feeling good about yourself?

Do your parents or your siblings have these same problems?

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you may be sensitive to sugar.

The theory of sensitivity to sugar was developed by Kathleen DesMaisons, PhD, during her research with recovering alcoholics. She identified specific physical and emotional traits, including the following:
– “sweet tooth”
– mood swings
– variable self-esteem
– lack of willpower
– tendency toward depression and obsessive-compulsive behavior

These may sound like emotional or psychological issues, but people who are sugar sensitive are actually different physiologically from people who are not-and these differences are frequently inherited. Sugar-sensitive people have three main problems-volatile blood sugar, low serotonin levels, and low levels of beta-endorphin.

Volatile blood sugar
Normally, when someone consumes a food that is high in carbohydrates their blood sugar will rise, causing their body to release insulin, which brings the blood sugar back down. People who are sugar-sensitive have the same reaction, but there is a greater amount of insulin released, so their blood sugar falls faster.

Mood swings are the main effect of a variable blood sugar. When the sugar is up the person feels wonderful; when it’s down, they feel irritable, tense, or even confused.

Low serotonin levels
Serotonin is a brain chemical-a neurotransmitter-that affects both emotional status and willpower. A person with low serotonin can feel depressed, disorganized, and pessimistic. They may also have trouble saying “no”-to just about anything, not just food. And they may find it difficult to “let go” of things, leading to obsessive-compulsive behavior traits.

Low beta-endorphin levels

Beta endorphin, another brain chemical, is responsible for the “runner’s high” sometimes experienced by athletes. Basically, it’s a painkiller; it helps us feel good.

People with low levels of beta-endorphin have a lower tolerance to pain-both physical and emotional. They may think they’re just too sensitive, and try to avoid situations that cause pain. They may feel lonely and helpless, and have low self-esteem and self-confidence.

There is another consideration, though. The human body is always trying to maintain balance-homeostasis. If the beta-endorphin level is too low, the body will increase the number of beta-endorphin receptor sites on the nerves, so that what beta-endorphin is present can be used more efficiently.

This “homeostatic mechanism” may work well-until the person consumes something that produces beta-endorphins. The level in the body then rises to something closer to normal-which would be fine, except that the body now has all those extra receptor sites. As a result, the body will react as if it has too many beta-endorphins, and produce a feeling of euphoria that is much more extreme than what would be felt by a non-sugar-sensitive person.

Once the beta-endorphin level goes back down, the sugar-sensitive person will feel many of the same “withdrawal” symptoms an addict feels when they stop using their drug of choice. And actually, an addictive process can very easily be set up here-especially if the “drug of choice” is a supposedly harmless food.

What substances increase beta-endorphins? The answer is probably easy to guess-sugar, and any refined carbohydrate or simple starch. Other things that can do it are alcohol (which is just another form of sugar) and many feel-good drugs (including the illegal ones). It’s very possible that many people’s addictive tendencies could be traced back to sugar sensitivity.

Dr. DesMaisons believes that changing what you eat and when you eat it are the keys to controlling your symptoms and getting your life back on track. Her program is broken down into several steps to make it easier for people to follow. The program itself won’t be described here-Dr. DesMaisons has covered it in detail in her books and on her web site-but here are a few of her suggestions:

– Eat three meals a day that include protein-and one of these must be breakfast.

– Cut down gradually on sugars and refined carbohydrates, while increasing your consumption of complex carbohydrates, like whole grains.

– Have a potato, with the skin on, every night before bedtime. (This is why Dr. DesMaisons’ first book was called Potatoes Not Prozac.)

– Keep a journal of when you eat, what you eat, and how you feel (physically, mentally, and emotionally).

Sugar sensitivity can cause all kinds of life-changing problems. But it’s comforting to know that changing our eating habits can provide solutions that can also change our lives-for the better.

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