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Experience Life Magazine

20 Tips to Curb Sugar Cravings and Kick the Addiction

As a serious sugar addict still struggling with my “addiction” I know first hand how difficult it is to get off sugar, and to stay off it. Part of the reason it’s so hard to kick the habit is that over time our brains actually become addicted to the natural opioids that are triggered by sugar consumption. Much like the classic drugs of abuse such as cocaine, alcohol and nicotine, a diet loaded with sugar can generate excessive reward signals in the brain which can override one’s self-control and lead to addiction.

One study out of France, presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, showed that when rats (who metabolize sugar much like we do) were given the choice between water sweetened with saccharin and intravenous cocaine, 94 percent chose the saccharin water. When the water was sweetened with sucrose (sugar), the same preference was observed — the rats overwhelmingly chose the sugar water. When the rats were offered larger doses of cocaine, it did not alter their preference for the saccharin or sugar water. Even rats addicted to cocaine, switched to sweetened water when given the choice. In other words, intense sweetness was more rewarding to the brain than cocaine.

The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction to include three stages: bingeing, withdrawal and craving. Until recently, the rats had only met two of the elements of addiction, bingeing and withdrawal. But recent experiments by Princeton University scientist, Professor Bart Hoebel and his team showed craving and relapse as well. By showing that excess sugar led not only to bingeing and withdrawal, but to cravings for sweets as well, the final critical component of addiction fell into place and completed the picture of sugar as a highly addictive substance.

In stark contrast to this clinical assessment is the fact that for most of us, “something sweet” is a symbol of love and nurturance. As infants, our first food is lactose, or milk sugar. Later on, well-intended parents (me included) reward children with sugary snacks, giving them a “treat,” turning a biochemically harmful substance into a comfort food. We become conditioned to need something sweet to feel complete or satisfied and continue to self-medicate with sugar as adults, using it to temporarily boost our mood or energy. But as any addict knows, one quick fix soon leaves you looking for another — each hit of momentary satisfaction comes with a long term price.

The bottom line is that sugar works the addiction and reward pathways in the brain in much the same way as many illegal drugs. And, like other drugs, it can destroy your health and lead to all sorts of ailments including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight gain, and premature aging. Sugar is basically a socially acceptable, legal, recreational drug, with deadly consequences — and like with any drug addiction, you have to have a flexible but structured plan to beat it.

Here are some tips to help you cope with sugar cravings:

Eat Regularly: Eat three meals and two snacks or five small meals a day. For many people, if they don’t eat regularly, their blood sugar levels drop, they feel hungry and are more likely to crave sweet sugary snacks.

Choose Whole Foods: The closer a food is to its original form, the less processed sugar it will contain. Food in its natural form, including fruits and vegetables, usually presents no metabolic problems for a normal body, especially when consumed in variety. (For more information, read “The Whole Thing” in the ExperienceLife archives).

Have A Breakfast Of Protein, Fat And Phytonutrients: Breakfast smoothies are ideal for this. The typical breakfast full of carbs and sugary or starchy foods is the worst option since you’ll have cravings all day. Eating a good breakfast is essential to prevent sugar cravings. (For more information, read “Phyto Power” in the ExperienceLife archives).

Try To Incorporate Protein/Fat Into Each Meal: This helps control blood sugar levels. Make sure they are healthy sources of each.

Add Spices: Coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom will naturally sweeten your foods and reduce cravings.  (For more information, read “5 Healing Spices” in the ExperienceLife archives).

Take A Good Quality Multivitamin And Mineral Supplement, Omega 3 Fatty Acids And Vitamin D3: Nutrient deficiencies can make cravings worse and the fewer nutrient deficiencies, the fewer cravings. Certain nutrients seem to improve blood sugar control including chromium, vitamin B3 and magnesium.

Move Your Body: Exercise, dance or do some yoga. Whatever movement you enjoy will help reduce tension, boost your energy and decrease your need for a sugar lift.

Get Enough Sleep: When we are tired we often use sugar for energy to counteract the exhaustion.

Do A Detox: My experience has been that when people do a detox, not only does it reset their appetites but it often decreases their sugar cravings. After the initial sugar cravings, which can be overwhelming, our bodies adjust and we won’t even want the sugar anymore and the desire will disappear.  (For more information, read “Detox Done Right” in the ExperienceLife archives).

Be Mindful Of Emotions: Be open to explore the emotional issues around your sugar addiction. Many times our craving for sugar is more for an emotional need that isn’t being met.

Keep It Out of Reach: Keep sugary snacks out of your house and office. It’s difficult to snack on things that aren’t there!

Don’t Substitute Artificial Sweeteners For Sugar: This will do little to alter your desire for sweets. If you do need a sweetener, try Stevia, it’s the healthiest.

Learn to Read Labels: Although I would encourage you to eat as few foods as possible that have labels, educate yourself about what you’re putting into your body. The longer the list of ingredients, the more likely sugar is going to be included on that list. So check the grams of sugar, and choose products with the least sugar per serving. For more information, read “How Health People Decode Labels” in the ExperienceLife archives

Look Out for Sugar in Disguise: Remember that most of the “complex” carbohydrates we consume like bread, bagels and pasta aren’t really complex at all. They are usually highly refined and act just like sugars in the body and are to be avoided.

Take L-Glutamine: Take 1000-2000mg every couple of hours as necessary. It often relieves sugar cravings as the brain uses it for fuel.

Take a “Breathing Break:” Find a quiet spot, get comfortable and sit for a few minutes and focus on your breath. After a few minutes of this, the craving will pass.

Distract Yourself: Go for a walk, if possible, in nature. Cravings usually last for 10-20 minutes maximum. If you can distract yourself with something else, it often passes. The more you do this, the easier it gets and the cravings get easier to deal with.

Drink Lots of Water: Sometimes drinking water or seltzer water can help with the sugar cravings. Also sometimes what we perceive as a food craving is really thirst.  (For more information, read “How to Hydrate” in the ExperienceLife archives).

Have a Piece of Fruit: If you give in to your cravings, have a piece of fruit, it should satisfy a sweet craving and is much healthier.

If you follow these guidelines, perhaps you’ll be able to have an occasional “treat.” Be realistic with yourself and remember that a slip is not a failure. Don’t get down on yourself if you slip, just dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. However, if even just a little causes you to lose control, then it’s best to stay away from it completely. And my ultimate tip for sugar-free bliss is to remind ourselves to find and pursue “sweet satisfaction” in nourishing experiences other than food.

Frank Lipman, M.D., is the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC and the author of “REVIVE; Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again” (2009) (previously called SPENT).

Experience Life Magazine

The Dangers of the Medical Industrial Complex

by Mark Hyman, MD


YOUR DOCTORS THINK they make decisions based on medical evidence.

But they don’t!

In fact, half of medical evidence is hidden from your doctors. And the half that’s hidden is the half that shows drugs don’t work.

The bad news is that drug companies are not policed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the way they should be. A drug should be proven both effective and safe BEFORE it is prescribed to millions of people.

Sadly, that often isn’t the case.

Let me share with you two recent examples that highlight the dangerous collusion between drug companies and our government agency. They show why the FDA should really stand for “Federal Drug Aid.”

First, we now know that the cholesterol-lowering drug Zetia actually causes harm and leads to faster progression of heart disease DESPITE lowering cholesterol 58 percent when combined with Zocor.

This challenges the belief that high cholesterol causes heart attacks and shakes the $40 billion dollar cholesterol drug industry at its foundation.

Second, it’s come to light that nearly all the negative studies on antidepressants – that’s more than half of all studies on these drugs – were never published, giving a false sense of effectiveness of antidepressants to treat depression.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not telling you to blame your doctor.

Instead, blame deceptive scientific practices and industry-protective government polices. Let’s talk a closer look at these findings and their implications.

I once had a patient who worked in the drug approval division of the FDA. She taught me a very important lesson.

When a drug company designs and performs a study, it has to be registered with the FDA and ALL the results must be submitted to the FDA. But it doesn’t work that way.

Instead, the pharmaceutical companies ONLY submit the data they want to get published to medical journals. That means that any negative studies are hidden from the scientific community and from the public.

And when drug studies are sponsored by drug companies – as most are – they find positive outcomes at 4 times the rate of independently funded studies. This is also true for nutrition studies funded by the food industry that show the benefits of dairy or high-fructose corn syrup.

The FDA does not release this information.

Since drug companies fund most of the research in the world, other therapies that work better – such as diet and lifestyle or nutritional therapies – never get enough funding.

That was, it didn’t until 2004 when all the major scientific journals banded together and refused to publish any data from any drug study that did not list the results of all trials, either positive or negative, in a central database. (1)

Well, that sounds good – but listing obscure, unpublished studies buried deep in a hard-to-navigate public database run by the National Institutes of Health is hardly visible public disclosure.

Sure, the research studies are at least listed, but try to find out the results. After a few hours searching around on the website, I gave up.

Last year, Congress passed legislation expanding how much detail must be listed, but at the end of the day, who even looks at that? Most doctors don’t even have time to read the medical journals they receive. They get tiny bits of information from drug reps, who come to their office with free lunch and a sound bite about their drug.

They get slightly more information from researchers who are funded by pharmaceutical companies and present their findings at conferences sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, using presentations prepared for them by pharmaceutical companies. Not exactly independent, evidence-based medicine!

Now let’s get back to the news about Zetia. Zetia is a new drug that lowers cholesterol by a different mechanism than statin drugs like Lipitor and Zocor.

Why does this matter?

Well, doctors have been brainwashed to think that cholesterol is the cause of heart attacks even though half of all people who have heart attacks have NORMAL cholesterol.

And it seemed like the statins, which lowered cholesterol, actually reduced heart attacks.
Seems logical. If you lower cholesterol, you reduce heart attacks, right?


I believe that the reason statins lower risk is NOT because they lower cholesterol, but because they reduce inflammation. In fact, studies by Dr. Paul Ridker of Harvard show that the risk of heart attacks was only reduced if inflammation was lowered along with LDL cholesterol – but not if LDL cholesterol was lowered alone. (2)

So then along comes a drug that can be combined with statins to lower cholesterol even more. Great idea? Not really.

You see, the FDA approved Zetia without any proof that it lowered heart attacks or reduced the progression of heart disease. The drug was approved solely on the basis that it lowered cholesterol.

Yet Zetia was given to 5 million people – and made the drug companies $5 billion a year. That’s almost $14 million a day! And once Zetia was approved, its makers had no incentive to prove that it actually did what it was thought to do – lower heart attacks.

They dragged their feet doing the studies and then released the negative data (which they did only under pressure from news agencies and Congress) after a long delay.

Wouldn’t you drag your feet too if you were making $14 million a day?

But the FDA had the negative data on Zetia – and it didn’t speak up. The data that was withheld proved that Zetia did not reduce heart attacks but actually INCREASED fatty plaques in the arteries despite lowering cholesterol.

Let that sink in for a moment.

That’s right: Lowering cholesterol led to more heart disease!

That turns our whole medical model upside down. It shows us that high cholesterol is NOT a disease and may or may not be related to heart attacks.

Another recent study put another nail in the coffin of the Cholesterol Myth.

A major new cholesterol drug, torcetrapib, was pulled from the pipeline in December 2006 because despite lowering LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol in 15,000 people, it caused MORE heart attacks and strokes. (3)

This was to be the new cholesterol wonder drug. Oops.

All this points to a big research mess that is flawed in three ways.

First, what gets studied depends on who is funding it.

Since drug companies fund most of the research in the world, other therapies that work better – such as diet and lifestyle or nutritional therapies – never get enough funding.

Second, drug companies are aided by the FDA, which suppresses, hides, and doesn’t publish negative studies on drugs, only positive ones. This leads doctors to think they have all the evidence when they don’t.

Third, doctors, patients, and the media believe they have the whole truth, often until it is too late, like with Zetia or Premarin or Vioxx.

The evidence was there, but no one looked or publicized it. This makes it very difficult for consumers to get the best treatments for their health and the whole truth about drugs.
Here’s my advice on how to make sense of things.

1. Follow the money. Look carefully at who funded the study. Be suspicious if it was funded by drug companies.

2. Call or email your congressperson or Senator to demand better legislation providing an easy-to-navigate database of all drug trials, with consumer-friendly summaries of both published AND unpublished data submitted to the FDA so you can look up the drug you are prescribed and have a balanced opinion.

3. Don’t assume that drugs are the answer to your health problems. Heart disease is NOT a Lipitor deficiency but the result of your lifestyle interacting with your genes.

4. Learn to ask the question “why?” – and search for the answers. Dealing with lifestyle and environmental factors (the basis of UltraWellness) almost always works better for chronic illnesses. Drugs are there as a backup only if needed.

So take a closer look at the information you’ve been given about drugs. You might be surprised by what you find.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Were you aware of the studies I’ve mentioned today?

Which of the steps here do you plan to follow?

What has you experience been with medications compared to lifestyle measures?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD

(1) Laine C, Horton R, DeAngelis CD, Drazen JM, Frizelle FA, Godlee F, Haug C, Hébert PC, Kotzin S, Marusic A, Sahni P, Schroeder TV, Sox HC, Van der Weyden MB, Verheugt FW.Clinical trial registration: looking back and moving ahead. JAMA. 2007 Jul 4;298(1):93-4.

(2) Ridker PM, Cannon CP, Morrow D, Rifai N, Rose LM, McCabe CH, Pfeffer MA, Braunwald E; Pravastatin or Atorvastatin Evaluation and Infection Therapy-Thrombolysis in Myocardial Infarction 22 (PROVE IT-TIMI 22) Investigators. C-reactive protein levels and outcomes after statin therapy. N Engl J Med. 2005 Jan 6;352(1):20-8.

(3) Kastelein JJ, van Leuven SI, Burgess L, Evans GW, Kuivenhoven JA, Barter PJ, Revkin JH, Grobbee DE, Riley WA, Shear CL, Duggan WT, Bots ML; RADIANCE 1 Investigators.Effect of torcetrapib on carotid atherosclerosis in familial hypercholesterolemia. N Engl J Med. 2007 Apr 19;356(16):1620-30.

Mark Hyman, MD is family physician, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in his field.

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