Friday, February 6, 2015

Are You an Addict?

If you were a human throughout most of history, you would have had to work very hard to find, grow or kill your own food. And, getting enough calories and nutrients from one day to the next could literally have been the dividing line between life and death. We grew to desire and seek out the most nutrient and calorie dense foods that nature provides, in order to ensure our own, and our species', survival. At the same time, we needed to have a reliable way of discerning which foods might contain poisonous substances, so that we could avoid them.

According to Dr. Rober Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, "there is no food stuff on the planet that has fructose (sugar) that is poisonous to you. It is all good. So when you taste something that's sweet, it's an evolutionary Darwinian signal that this is a safe food."

So, we are pre-programmed to like sweets. Why is that a problem? Read on.

Dr. Lustig, whose video lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, has received well over 5 million YouTube views, makes a compelling case for the reasons behind our modern epidemic of obesity and its related diseases. 

In a nutshell, it's this: too much sugar coupled with too little fiber. 

So, while humans have always craved sweets, it wasn't until the onset of modern food production that this craving became a health threat. Dr. Lustig's theory is that we used to get our fructose mostly in small amounts of fruit -- which came loaded with fiber that slows absorption and consumption. But, as sugar and high fructose corn syrup became cheaper to refine and produce, we started gorging on them. And, as our foods became increasingly more loaded with sugar, at the same time, they dropped dramatically in fiber content. So, while the diets of our ancient ancestors contained 100-300 grams of daily fiber, today, we average only 12 grams. You read that right.

How did this happen?

Food that retains a high fiber content has a short shelf life and takes longer to prepare. That is not a convenient state of affairs for our fast-paced, fast-food world. In nature, fructose always comes in a high fiber package. Not so in our supermarkets, convenience stores, fast-food outlets and restaurants. Pick up almost any packaged product and read the label. Most likely, you will see some form of sugar and little to no fiber.

Why is this? Why do we almost never hear about fiber outside of commercials for fiber powders we can mix with water and ingest to help keep us "regular"? Well, fiber isn't a big money maker, that's why. What fiber IS, though, is an essential nutrient.

  • Reduces the rate of intestinal carbohydrate absorption
  • Makes you feel full
  • Suppresses insulin
And yet, it is almost non-existent in the modern diet.

What we DO get plenty of is fructose - to the tune of about 130 lbs for each American every year. Even if you are diligent about avoiding sweets, chances are that you're still eating quite a bit of sugar, hidden in all kinds of foods and drinks - bread, ketchup, jerky, sports drinks, salad dressings, protein bars, canned soup - the list is much longer than you might think.

This fructose overload has led to many of our modern disease epidemics - high blood pressure, type II diabetes, heart disease, obesity, liver disease, and cancer. 

But the biggest surprise here is Alzheimer's disease.

According to recent studies by Brown University neuropathologist Suzanne de la Monte, MD, Alzheimer's may very well be a metabolic disease, in which the brain's ability to use glucose and produce energy is damaged. In other words, it's like having diabetes in the brain.

How does sugar consumption contribute to the growth of cancer?

Lewis Cantley, a Harvard professor and head of the Beth Israel Deaconess Cancer Center, says that when we eat or drink sugar, it causes a sudden spike in the hormone insulin. Nearly a third of some common cancers, including breast and colon cancers, have insulin receptors on their surface. Insulin binds to these receptors and signals the tumor to start consuming glucose. Every cell in our bodies needs glucose to survive, including a cancer cell.

So if you happen to have the tumor that has insulin receptors on it then it will get stimulated to take up the glucose that's in the bloodstream. Rather than go into fat or muscle, the glucose goes into the tumor. And the tumor uses it to grow. - Lewis Cantley

Ok, so if fructose is so bad for us, why don't we just stop eating it?

It turns out that sugar triggers the release of the same "feel good" chemicals, called opioids and dopamine, as other addictive drugs, like cocaine and alcohol. And, much like other drug addicts, sugar addicts build up a tolerance to the stuff and they need more and more of it to get the same effect. 

So, the more sugar you eat, the less you feel the reward. 

In a very real and tragic way, most of us are definitely addicts to the stuff.

And, while we can choose to do the hard work of cutting out fructose and going through withdrawals, there's a whole population of humans that doesn't have this choice.

I'm talking about the epidemic of obese newborns and infants.

When a pregnant woman eats sugar, this sugar goes into the placenta and feeds the baby. This developmental programming makes the baby a sugar addict before he or she is even born. And, it doesn't get much better after that. Have you ever read the labels of infant formulas? Many have as much sugar and high fructose corn syrup as sugary soft drinks. Think about that.

OK, so what can we do? 

Educate yourself and your family. Eat as close to nature as you can. Check labels for hidden sugars. 

And remember that it's much easier, cheaper and less painful to prevent disease than it is to treat disease.