Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sugar and brain chemistry

I was doing some reading on sugar and brain chemistry and came across an interesting article by Marcelle Pick, an OB/GYN NP in Maine, who specializes in women's issues. This is one of the more concise explanations I've heard for sugar cravings and I thought I'd share it with you. Thanks to Dr. Pick!

"Positive associations [with sugar] are deeply ingrained in our brains. Our brains “reward” us by releasing serotonin and beta-endorphins [neurotransmitters] when we eat sugar or other refined carbohydrates that are easily converted to glucose (the simplest sugar).

Serotonin is best known as the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. Neurotransmitters act by sending messages from the nervous system to the rest of the body, and serotonin levels are what several antidepressants manipulate to improve mood and anxiety. Made from the essential amino acid tryptophan, serotonin’s roots are in protein.

So what does sugar have to do with it? Sugar consumption leads to increased serotonin in the brain bia its impact on insulin. The bottom line is that we need insulin to help tryptophan get into the brain so it can produce serotonin. And sugar — or any carbohydrate for that matter — causes us to release insulin. Refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, white bread, pasta, and white rice, lead to a more intense insulin surge than do complex carbohydrates like vegetables and whole grains.

Beta-endorphin is another neurotransmitter we release when eating sweets or refined carbohydrates. This is the neurotransmitter typically associated with a “runner’s high” because it acts as a natural painkiller, produces a sense of well-being, increases self-esteem, and settles anxiety. Our brains naturally release beta-endorphin when we are in any kind of physical pain — and when we eat sugar.

It’s no wonder sugar feels so good! Physiologically, sugar “feeds” our brains with two neurotransmitters that send positive messages to the rest of the body. The problem is that the lift we experience after a can of soda, a bowl of noodles, or a chocolate chip cookie doesn’t last very long, and eating these foods, especially without combining them with some protein, can set us up for cyclical cravings. We will find ourselves wanting more and more."

For more information: http://www.womentowomen.com/insulinresistance/sugarcravings.aspx?id=17&campaignno=cravingscontent&adgroup=ag2sweets&adtype=content&keywords=sugar+craving+causes#

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