Thursday, October 28, 2010

Model for Sugar/Carb Addiction, Part 2

The normal paleolithic metabolism was most likely based on running most of your body's cells via fat oxidation, thus sparing glucose for the brain/CNS/hemoglobin cells (and for emergency action when glycolysis would be needed to sustain high physical outputs).  How would I know this?  Mainly because before the advent of agriculture, there was no means to eat high carb foods all day every day.  Glucose rich foods would have been in short supply for much of the year, which is why humans are perfectly capable of making all the glucose we need from protein we ingest, via gluco-neogenisis.  Not only that, we have an additional back up system which allows us to convert stored fat into a glucose substitute, ketones.  Take note - glucose is a critical piece of your metabolism, perhaps second only to respiration, and the body has two systems which will allow us to function quite well without eating any glucose (sugars) at all.
How then, do we become sugar addicts?  First, we habitually eat a lot of high sugar foods (which includes most so called complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, corn, rice, and wheat/grains).  This sets us up for 'reactive hypo glycemia.'  Sugar is a very potent fuel, which is why the body uses it for the CNS and for very high output physical activity, but it is also toxic when it exceeds the 'design specifications' for the human body.  Your body is a capacity to use and store at any one time about 5 grams of sugar.  When you eat a potato or banana, with 15-30 grams of carbohydrate (all of which is converted to glucuse in the gut before transport to the blood stream), you put your body into an emergency glucose disposal scenario. 
Insulin is the body's emergency tool for dealing with excess blood glucose. However, since this is an emergency system, vice a standard operating procedure, and there's no room for the body to under-respond, the body will frequently over-produce insulin.  Insulin in high levels both signals the body to store glucose (and almost everything else, too) in the cells, and shuts down the process by which we can metabolize fat as fuel.  This makes sense - if you have too much glucose, it will help solve this crisis if your body switches to sugar burning vice fat burning.  This brings us to the problem - if you are consuming sugar/carbs in quantities that are very normal for the SAD, you are rourtinely, several times per day, giving your body a sugar disposal emergency, which will result in:
1.  Plummeting glucose levels
2.  No access to stored fat for a fuel source
3.  Very low levels of fat metabolizing enzymes at the cellular level (these enzymes are a use or lose proposition like almost every bodily system)
4.  Increasing insulin resistance, which accelerates the whole process. 
You end up only being able to support adequate glucose levels by eating glucose containing or generating foods, regularly, in either very small amounts (uncommon), or to excess.  Ultimately, this cycle results in metabolic syndrome, and skyrocketing risks for all the illnesses you don't want
OK, back to the addiction model.  Supposing you are at the stage in this cycle in which your body disposed of its overdose of glucose, leaving you with low blood glucose.  Ironically, this is an emergency too.  If your glucose gets too low, you fall over, and if glucose goes lower still, you die.  Suffice to say, low glucose leaves you feeling bad - hungry, irritable, low energy, difficulty concentrating - and relief of low glucose comes most rapidly when you eat a very digestible carb source.  Like the smoker who takes a puff of smoke and finds immediate relief from nicotine withdrawal, the carb addict learns which foods provide quick relief from their hypo-glycemia and keeps them handy!  Then, after repeating the glucose binge/crash cycle a hundred times, the addict powerfully associates sugar with relief of physiological pain.  At that point, the sugary foods equal "PLEASURE" in the addict's unconscious mind, and no amount of conscious mind rationalizing will help to reprogram that association.  No amount of shame resulting from one's lack of control will help to change the sugar addict's behavior.  No amount of fear from one's growing waistline will help one to stop eating the 'nasty' stuff.  When it comes down to you versus your unconscious mind, you will lose every time.
So, lose the shame, put the frustration behind you, and let's dig into how you might be able to enlist your unconscious mind's aid in putting you on the path to health and wellness. 
But we'll do that next time.

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