By Mike Short
While working the streets as a beat cop, and now a detective, I’ve had ample opportunity to see the devastating effects drugs like heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine have on people and their families.
These people are somebody’s son or daughter but have, sadly, become shells of themselves. Many times you can’t even recognize these addicts when comparing their figure to their driver’s license image or old family photos.
These powerful drugs rip families apart and the addicts often find themselves involved in all kinds of criminal activity that their former self would never have dreamt of. Why does this happen? Simple. They desperately need that next high and will do just about anything to get it.
While researching the effects of processed sugar on our bodies, I discovered that sugar and drugs, like heroin or cocaine, have a common biological response when introduced into our bodies. Scary, right? Processed sugar, which is found everywhere in the western diet, works similarly to the way drugs like heroin do.
Because we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), God has created our bodies in such a way that everything in us works synergistically to enable us to live full, happy lives. One example of this great plan is how the biochemistry in our brains work.
We have chemicals in our brains called neurotransmitters, which allow our neurons, or nerve cells, to communicate with one another. These various neurotransmitters are responsible for everything from telling your heart when to beat to when your stomach should digest food.
We were created to have all the levels in sync but our modern western diet, stress and anxiety, and lack of sleep affect the balance God designed leaving us, in many cases, sick and tired.
One of the most powerful neurotransmitters, and the one we’ll be focusing on, is dopamine. Dopamine is a very important chemical that’s responsible for our focus and attention as well as our mood.
Impact of Low Dopamine
When our dopamine levels are low it’s difficult to complete daily tasks such as focusing at work, remembering where we placed our keys, or even remembering our anniversaries (eek!). Low dopamine levels can also lead to feelings of depression and sadness. This neurotransmitter is also responsible for our drive and motivation to be productive.
When we consume sugar, alcohol, or even heroin these addictive substances create a dopamine dump and give us an immediate feeling of euphoria and satiation. Rada, P., et al 1 describe in their research that “under select dietary circumstances, sugar can have effects similar to a drug of abuse.” In fact, sugar acts on the neurons and neurotransmitters in the same way as the opioids I mentioned above.
I Need a Sugar Fix!
Additionally, a less than optimal side effect of this unnatural dopamine rush is that our bodies often stop production of naturally occurring dopamine, which leaves us with intense cravings for that next sugar, or in more extreme cases, heroin fix.
As this pattern perpetuates, our brains become more and more dependent on the drug since we need it to focus, feel happy, and be productive. We’ve asked our naturally occurring regulatory systems to step aside since we’re now controlling our dopamine releases through the fulfillment of our cravings.
This vicious cycle continues, demanding us to remain on the hamster wheel of addiction, until we use our will power, with the grace of God, to make a conscious decision to get healthy.
So No More Donuts?
Now, I’m not claiming that the next donut you have will push you over the edge and cause you to start breaking into your parent’s house and cleaning them out so you can get your next pastry fix. But to say there aren’t parallels between sugar dependency and an addict’s drug dependency is to hide from the truth.
It’s also instructional to look at the issue from the perspective of the order in which God created things. Before there were mass produced candy bars human beings hunted and gathered their food from what was created. When looking at how people lived before the industrial revolution, we can clearly see that their sugar intake was little to none due to its scarcity and seasonal availability.
Maybe God was on to something when he created this earth from nothing and provided a limited amount of sweet tasting fruits as delicacies. Looking from this perspective we can see that He delights in our enjoyment and happiness but doesn’t shower us with these treats all of the time because it’s simply not good for us.
As a parent I often have to rein my kids in since, if given the option, they would binge on chocolate and lollipops. I know that this isn’t good for them and can ultimately hurt them, so I limit the amount of sugar they consume.
Each day we make parenting decisions like this because we have the experience and wisdom to know what’s best for our children. You can also see this fatherly desire for what is best for each of us written in God’s creation.
What About Feast Days?
The church’s liturgical life is sprinkled with feast days in which we celebrate the lives of the saints or significant portions of the life of Christ. These are times to celebrate and enjoy a nice meal and possibly a dessert.
By sticking to having sweets during times of celebration like these and including regular periods of fasting as Christian tradition promotes, you’ll be on your way to a well ordered and intentional life!
Hopefully this helps you to see the impact processed sugar has on our bodies and how God has weaved it into His plan.
The next step is to take a look at how much processed sugar you’re taking in on a daily basis. Do you find yourself snacking before bed or craving a morning sugar rush?
Perhaps it’s a great time to take stock of your current habits and begin to make small intentional changes… starting with sugar.
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- Rada P, Avena NM, Hoebel BG., Neuroscience. 2005; Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell. 134(3): 737-44 ↩