Madame Sugar and Her Dopamine Dance
Stop what you are doing and put the soda, iced coffee or juice down. Whatever is in your hand probably has way too much sugar, but you drink it mindlessly because it tastes good. (Dramatic Pause)…is it mindless or is it your mind that has everything to do with it? Our bodies are made up of around 60 percent water and designed to need water to live. So, what makes us crave the sweet comfort of Madame Sugar? Well, it’s her magic spell that secretly hooks us ---The Dopamine Dance.
How strong is Madame Sugar’s magical spell? Interestingly, research studies published over the last few years conclude sugar is just as addictive to the human brain as cocaine and heroin. In these studies, lab rats were more likely to choose sugar over drug injections when given the choice. It seems Madame Sugar’s Dopamine Dance is more powerful than we thought. Her memorizing spell stimulates the “pleasure and reward” center in our brains. It’s not surprising that associating sugar with alcohol and hard-core drugs is tough for us to accept. After all, we don’t hear of someone losing their life, home or family due to a sugar fix.
Our dependence on sugar is why researchers have become incredibly fascinated by the behavior of lab rats in response to food rewards. The frequency in which the lab rats press a lever to produce a reward is eerily like watching the way some humans press buttons on a soda machine. It’s as if both us and the rats are under a spell. The allure is so strong that we aren’t willing to closely examine our own behaviors in relationship to sugar. Even if the evidence is right in front of us, it’s easier to deny the truth than to admit sugar addiction is real. That denial becomes a slippery slope leading us to self-medicate with high-processed, sugary foods. Our brains want the reward of comfort or a temporary boost in mood and energy. We live in a fast-paced, high energy society where instant gratification is King. When all of life seems out of control, we turn to food as a distorted way to regain that loss and bring happiness.
In neuroscience, food is considered a “natural reward.” Our bodies need eating, sex and nurturing others to be pleasurable so our species survives. Unfortunately, that need to instantly find pleasure in food is killing us faster than we realize. Our Western diet has created a precursor for a life-long addiction to sugar leading to a path of chronic illness. We must face facts, the majority of our diet consists of overly processed foods. In our quest to make food more convenient and accessible, we created experiments with dire consequences. What we consume daily is purposely laced with sugar to mask the chemicals that allow processed food to have longer shelf lives. Which simply means Madame Sugar is hiding in plain sight to overpower us. We have allowed ourselves to become the rats!
Elizabeth Sindelar-Loy is the Community Outreach Coordinator and Functional Medicine Assistant for Dr. Curtis Baird at Main Street Chiropractic in Edwardsville. She has worked in holistic health care for over 3 years. Ms. Sindelar-Loy is also the owner of Excitare Potest Etiam, a motivational company teaching people how to brand themselves on social media in order to achieve their personal and professional goals. As a single mom to an ambitious little girl, she understands the importance of practicing self-care to achieve balance in personal and professional growth.