The sour truth about our sweet tooth

America has become known in recent years for suffering from two epidemics: obesity and depression.

Sixty-two per cent of America’s females are overweight, trumped by 67 per cent of men. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and in blunt terms, 127 million adults in the US. are overweight.

Depression has not been given quite the press attention that obesity has, as it is less obvious. We cannot view the quality of a person’s mental state like we can view the size of their waistline.

However, clearly this has also become an issue, serious enough for The Journal of the American Medical Association to publish a special edition just on depression in June 2003. The publication detailed that more than 16 per cent of America’s population – or around 35 million people – had experienced depression over their lifetimes.

We have heard all of this before. What has not been reported on half as much is the link between the two. Why is it that America is becoming more depressed – and therefore, medicated – as the scales are rising?

Kathleen DesMaisons, author of Potatoes Not Prozac and a PhD recipient in the area of addictive nutrition, has the answer.

Dr. DesMaisons argues that the prevalence of sugar in the average American diet is leading to an increase in obesity, heart disease, Type II diabetes – and depression. Many medical doctors have spurned DesMaison’s claims, stating that sugar is a non-addictive substance and that, although lowering its presence in our daily diet may aid us in losing weight and improving our health, it ultimately cannot be held solely responsible for the various afflictions Dr. DesMaison suggests in her book.

Although the doctors obviously have much medical evidence to back up their arguments, Dr. DesMaisons’ books definitely prove enlightening, even if they are to be taken with a pinch of salt (not sugar).

Biochemistry

DesMaisons seems to argue that sugar is addictive due to the effect consumption of it has on one’s biochemistry – and she points out that only some people are sugar-sensitive.

If you tend to experience serene highs followed by major energy crashes shortly after eating a large quantity of sugary foods, you may be one of the sugar-sensitive population that she is targeting.

DesMaisons explains that there are three ‘legs’ to our biochemical ‘stool’. These are serotonin, beta-endorphin and blood sugar. When DesMaisons describes a sugar-sensitive person, with low levels of serotonin, beta-endorphin and volatile blood sugar, she is not just describing physical effects. Sugar-sensitive people will suffer from mood swings if they have deficits in their blood sugar, will be ‘depressed and impulsive’ if they have low levels of serotonin, and ‘will have low self-esteem, feel socially isolated, and have a very low tolerance for painful situations’ – both physically and emotionally – if they have low beta-endorphin levels.

It is easy to see how sugar can affect a person inside and out, and how it may be the main culprit for the recent rises in depression and obesity in America.

It is interesting to see how sugar affects these three legs of our biochemical stool. If you are naturally sugar-sensitive, you may be turned off at the idea of eating breakfast, crave alcohol and sweet foods over any others, and graze on food throughout the day, rather than eating three square meals.

Sugar content

A fair question is why people in America would be affected more by these symptoms than people in other countries. Well, it is definitely true that America is one of the main countries in the world that processes and produces food with high sugar content. In Cayman, we receive most of our food products from America, and are therefore susceptible to these ourselves. Sugary cereals, cinnamon rolls and ice cream are the more obvious sources of sugar. However, sugar is also put in soups, pasta sauces, ketchup and bread.

Many Europeans have visited America only to find everything repulsively sweetened. Starbucks is a classic example. Their drinks are loaded with sugar and the result is a coffee or tea drink that tastes like anything but what Europeans are used to in their café drinks.

Depleted blood sugar causes your body to exhibit symptoms that are primarily used to diagnose depression. Mood swings, lethargy and exhaustion along with a general lack of motivation are all key signifiers of depression – but also, perhaps, key signifiers of someone who indulges in a little too much sugar.

Recovery plan

DesMaisons has two books – Potatoes Not Prozac and The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program – which both detail in simple terms her seven-step recovery plan for sugar addicts. The program is gradual and easy to apply, but does eventually result in cutting out all sugar.

DesMaisons is careful about this major overhaul in diet, however, realizing that it is not realistic to instantly remove all traces of sugar from one’s diet, and encouraging an overhaul first in eating patterns and general nutrition before even approaching the levels of sugar one consumes.

‘(You) cannot treat your sugar addiction by simply going off sugar,’ she says. ‘You need to treat your underlying sugar sensitivity…The story is far bigger than learning to ‘just say no’.’

DesMaisons does, however, stress that certain depressive conditions are more serious and need medication and psychotherapy to help heal. She is instead targeting those who feel the symptoms of mild depression and are instantly put on SSRI antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac and Effexor.

FYI

If you think that sugar may be the culprit to blame for your expanding waistline or saddening moods, try picking up one of DesMaisons’ books, talking to your doctor about the possibility of altering your diet to improve your health, or visit DesMaisons’ website at www.radiantrecovery.com to find out more information.

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