Death by sugar (I’m not kidding)

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that Halloween is on a Tuesday this year and our kids’ sweet hearted teachers will have to deal with them the day after a sugar high-crash-high-crash/no sleep cycle. *deep breath & we’re back.*

Most parents that I have spoken to have discussed that for the most part they restrict free grazing of sugar in their children’s diet-except for on Halloween. Although it is only one night a year, this extravagance of sugar intake can have some serious consequences- including death. And although it is very unlikely to happen, it is easier than you think (not even including the long term effects).  

How does this work?:

Reactions created a video discussing this concept that you can overdose on sugar. The numbers below are the ‘average’ fun size candy bar sugar levels and the amount you would need to consume in order to overdose. Now these amounts are based on numbers that would kill about 50% of the population in this situation. Still low, but not zero- just saying.

-Average 180 lbs adult: 262 piece of fun size candy bars for overdose levels

-Average 60 lbs child: 87 pieces of fun size bars for overdose levels.

Luckily, here to ease your mind, we have James Ruff from the University of Utah (2016) who stated that you probably would not be able to successfully get to this toxicity point because your body would start to reject your consumption and create severe stomach pain with vomiting.

Thank you James. 🙂

Why is it happening?:

The cycle of sugar intake is interesting in that at first you have a huge surge of energy as your blood glucose levels rise. When your body detects this, it will release enough insulin so that the glucose can be absorbed by your body tissues and lowers your blood glucose level back to stable. In common terms, we call this a ‘sugar crash’ and it drains your once exuberant energy.

Then the sugar cravings start. Not only are we looking to restore our energy, we are also looking for the dopamine bump we experience when our blood glucose levels spike. You can sugar withdrawal very similarly to minor drug withdrawals which can include shaking, clouded mind, mood swings, irritability, and the feeling that your skin is crawling. Most of us will give in to these withdrawal symptoms and get our next sugar/dopamine bump. What is really frightening about this is not the short term effects, but how this wears your body down in the long term.

What happens then?:

Fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and the risk of becoming overweight all come to mind readily when discussing the long term consequences. However, there is good research that depression and anxiety is affected as well because your brain starts to pair sugar and dopamine almost exclusively. Meaning that your brain will actually fail to release dopamine with other pleasurable activities because the bond with sugar is so much stronger.  

Another interesting fact is that sugar in high quantities (many foods now have concentrated amounts of sugar in them) causes an inflammatory response in your body and brain. When the brain is inflamed you will start to notice memory issues, attention issues, low impulse control, and an overactive fight/flight/freeze response because the normally assigned areas of the brain can not communicate as well. The brain wants to be effective, so it will start to outsource its normal work to other areas who are not equipped to hand the tasks. Plus, just to keep the good times going- you are much more likely to get sick because your immune system is overworked and worn out dealing with the body inflammation. All of this combined starts to result in serious damage to the communication pathways between brain cells, resulting in chronic memory/learning problems. If you really want to be scared- google this. It is worth a google.

How do we stop?:

Please remember that small doses are fine and even big ones, if they are not frequent. So how do we loosen the grip sugar has on our brain you ask? These are not the most exciting answers, but they are effective.

-Only eat whole foods. Avoid processed foods in that they usually have lots of preservatives and added sugar for taste. When you get a craving, eat some fruit or sugary vegetables like carrots. It won’t be as satisfying, but it has a lot most substance for your body to use. Your body will learn that these are the types of sugars you will be getting, and the cravings will start to subside.

-Drink lots of water. We are chronically dehydrated as a nation. When you are dehydrated your body will often give you the trigger that it is hunger. So have a glass of water before eating to know if you are actually hungry or just thirsty.

-Keep yourself busy. The busier we are, the less we are focusing on our cravings. Know what your game plan is for cravings and plan ahead so you are not caught off guard. Make sure you plan various coping skills as well- like ways to refocus back on why you are stopping sugar intake and mindfulness breathing.

-Embrace the suck of sugar detox. This is literally the worst time of year to try and give up sugar. Everywhere you go there will be delicious sweets to tempt you. So know that it will be difficult and you may get irritable. Even find yourself a sugar detox buddy so that you can keep each other strong and hold each other accountable.

My Challenge to you: You don’t necessarily need to go on a full sugar detox this week but I would like you to notice the amount of sugar you are ingesting on a regular basis and ways you can reduce it.

Happy Halloween friends!

– Jessie the Therapist

Jessie Shepherd is a Mental Health Counselor and owner of Blue Clover Therapy in Utah. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Utah. Her focus is treating trauma, eating disorders and adjustment issues in adults, adolescents, children and their families. She utilizes Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Play Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Neurological Feedback.

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