We all know sugar is bad for us. It’s almost impossible to miss the ‘war on sugar’ from every corner of the health community. But how much do we really understand about why it’s such a global problem that transcends continents and cultures alike?
Well have you ever tried to quit the stuff? I mean properly quit - as in totally eradicating it from your diet. I have, many times and I literally call it going ‘cold turkey’ due to the sudden intense ‘craaaving’ for anything containing that glorious white powder. Now I don’t really even have a sweet tooth, but for the first few days of my health kick I’m like a junkie on full withdrawal hallucinating about chocolate cake…. And then after 3 days like magic, it just disappears and I’m cured! Hence, it must be addictive - right?
So is there a scientific reason for this, or am I just imagining it?
It’s well understood that a lot of bacteria feed off sugar – especially the bad ones that cause staph infections, strep throat, tuberculosis and candida. But there is growing evidence from the science community that some bacteria have evolved the ability to ‘hijack’ our neurological processes to benefit themselves. A breakthrough study from the University of California, San Francisco determined that bacteria may have a degree of control over eating behavior including “influence on reward”, mood altering toxins and changes to taste receptors.
Science daily has more
"Bacteria within the gut are manipulative," said Carlo Maley, PhD, director of the UCSF Center for Evolution and Cancer and corresponding author on the paper." "There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not."
Fortunately, it's a two-way street. We can influence the compatibility of these microscopic, single-celled houseguests by deliberating altering what we ingest, Maley said, with measurable changes in the microbiome within 24 hours of diet change.
"Because microbiota are easily manipulatable by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes, altering our microbiota offers a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating," the authors wrote.
So in a way, sugar really is addictive but not quite the same way as chemicals such as drugs and alcohol that directly impact your brain cells. Is the craving actually caused by tiny microbes that live off sugar all simultaneously screaming ‘feed me’ when you remove their food source? Nice try guys but we’re onto you!
And if you are considering a sugar-free health kick, and your pesky microbiome is working against you, have some faith that maybe waiting few days and supplementing your diet with different foods and good quality probiotics might just help you make it through the ‘withdrawal’ period (although might pass on the ‘fecal transplant’ for now).