One should eat to live, not live to eat. (Benjamin Franklin)
The notion of is not a new idea. In the 1975 best seller Sugar Blues, author William Dufty makes the case that sugar is an addictive drug and extremely harmful to the human body. The book paints a conspiracy theory by the sugar industry to keep Americans addicted to sugar, and misrepresents the health and safety data of its products to consumers. And from the statistics showing a rapid, steady increase in overall obesity and chronic diseases among children and adults in developed countries (due in part to sugar), Dufty was right. The book also suggests that eliminating refined sugar from the diet of institutionalized mental illness sufferers could be a successful treatment for some.
As related in the Psychology Today article, Dietary Sugar and Mental Illness: A Surprising Link by Stephen Llardi, PhD., noted British psychiatric researcher Malcolm Peet conducted a cross-cultural investigation of the relationship between diet and mental illness. According to the study, there is a “strong link between high sugar consumption and the risk of both depression and schizophrenia.” The study further identified two possible mechanisms by which intake of refined sugar might wield poisonous effects on mental health.
- sugar suppresses activity of a key growth hormone responsible for neuron health and preservation in the brain, which plays a vital role in memory function.
- sugar consumption triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in the body that promote chronic inflammation causing mayhem to the brain leading to greater risk of depression and schizophrenia.
The report continues by stating that mental illness often leads to shrinkage of key brain regions over time and that chronic depression “actually leads to brain damage.” The reports conclusion: eating refined sugar and other overly processed molecular relatives such as 'high fructose corn syrup' may encourage mental illnesses in susceptible individuals. This brings to mind the infamous 1978 “Twinkie defense.”
Of course, personal freedom offers the right to decide for oneself. But if you suffer from even a slight depression and feel cutting down on sugar consumption might help, you will have to read between the lines. Even "healthy foods" such as yogurt and instant oatmeal can pack in 20-30 grams (5-7 teaspoons) of hidden, unnecessary added sugar. Catsup, flavored creamers, breads, crackers, soups, and countless other processed foods are teeming with sugar under different names:
- Barley malt
- Beet sugar
- Brown sugar
- Cane-juice crystals
....the list is endless and purposely confusing.
But to definitively identify sugar’s true effect of overall health and wellness is a near impossible task. As an online article by Heidi Boudro summarizes; “The effects of refined sugar are actually quite obvious, but our view is obscured because our culture has been involved with sugar for hundreds of years. We have nothing to compare it to--no control group without sugar. Without the escalation of sugar consumption over the last hundred years, we might not be able to see it at all. We're left with comparing our degenerative diseases with our considerably more hardy grandparents and our considerably more impaired children.”
So the next time you blame your penchant for sugary treats as “having a sweet tooth,” shake it off, resist temptation, grab a piece of sugarless gum, go for a walk, and remember the words of William Shakespeare, “Hide not thy poison with such sugar'd words”…leave that to the international sugar cartels.
(NOTE: In the upcoming epilogue, we will examine a four-step plan to help de-sugar your life and introduce whole foods sources to help conquer the sweet allure of “white gold.”)