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Sugar, America's Drug of Choice

Many people use sugar as medicine. Sugar tends to change the way our metabolism uses specific amino acids to make the neurotransmitters needed for proper brain function. Eating refined carbohydrates increase the level of the amino acid tryptophan, which helps to create the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is the calming neurotransmitter. So when we need to relax we will crave sugar so that we can create more serotonin. This is one of the main reasons sugar is so addictive.

Refined sugars are added to many foods to improve the taste. Sugar consumption has increase dramatically since the 1950's. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated in 1993 that the average American ate 130 pounds of sugar per year, in 1998 it went to 147 pounds of sugar, and now this number is around 170 pounds of sugar per year. This includes whole sugar and many forms of processed sugars, including high fructose corn syrup. If you are tired all the time, look at your level of sugar consumption and foods that turn to sugar quickly in your system.

Sugars and other sweeteners are used in most processed foods today. Sugar can be hidden as many different names such as sucrose, fructose, maltodextrin, maltose, lactose, and high fructose corn syrup. All of these are names of refined sugars. If a food you are buying has any of these names on the label as the first ingredient, or a combination of them as one of the first four ingredients, do not buy it! It will cause blood sugar imbalances over time, and affect your immune system.

High fructose corn syrup was developed in 1966 as a sweetener to blend into processed foods. It is made from cornstarch and turns into fructose and glucose. This type of processed fructose is metabolized differently than glucose and can contribute to high triglycerides and insulin resistance. Fructose found in whole fruits does not have the adverse affect of processed fructose, and should not contribute to higher blood fats. But we are getting more processed fructose as an additive in foods. The consumption of high fructose corn syrup increased to an average of 62.6 pounds per person in 2001.

Our body, especially our brain, uses glucose for energy. Glucose is found in fruits and vegetables, and is used in the metabolism of all plants and animals. Yet, overuse of sugar, especially processed sugars in adults and children causes the adrenals to work harder, putting out more adrenaline than is necessary. With excess adrenaline there is a feeling of constant stress and anxiety in adults. In children it is seen as hyperactivity, concentration difficulties, and irritability. Concentration is affected because brain wave activity increases and focusing on one subject becomes more difficult. Over time, when the brain cells have been stressed too long, symptoms of depression will begin to occur. At this stage the whole system becomes overwhelmed, causing symptoms of fatigue and indifference, signaling that we need a rest. If depression is caused by excess refined sugar intake, no matter what medication is taken, the symptoms will not be alleviated properly.

Eating sugar is worse than eating nothing. Do not eat sugar-based foods just to try to get food into your system. Soft drinks are one of the worst drinks to consume on a regular basis. The average can of soda pop contains eight to nine teaspoons of sugar. This amount of sugar that is usually consumed in a very short period of time creates havoc with sugar metabolism in the liver. In response, the body must mobilize large amounts of adrenalin and insulin to clear the sugar from the bloodstream. Fruit juices are not much better. Juices contain about the same amount of sugar as soft drinks. They are basically sugar water with very few nutrients. Drinking juices or soft drinks regularly can lead to significant health problems as well as blood sugar disorders.

Recent studies show that 30% of our foods are basically high sugar, high carbohydrate junk foods, and children are some of the worst offenders. Too much sugar does affect our brain function. B-complex vitamins are used to process glutamic acid, which is needed by the brain. B-complex vitamins are used to metabolize excessive sugars. If you get sleepy after eating, or cannot think clearly, look at the level of processed sugars in your meals, especially the hidden ones, to see what may be causing these problems to occur. Avoiding processed sugars in our diet can prevent many potential chronic health issues.

Dr. Jane Oelke, N.D., Ph.D. is Naturopath and Doctor of Homeopathy in Southwest Michigan. She is the author of "Natural Choices for Fibromyalgia" and "Natural Choices for Attention Deficit Disorder". She is a professional speaker on a variety of natural health topics, and can be reached at and


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