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Sugar Addiction? What It Means for Dental Health; How to Crack the Habit

Got a sweet tooth? You’re not alone. A little more than half of all Americans confess strong taste for sweets, and 20% say it feels like a necessary part of their daily diet, according to this survey from Rasmussen Reports. Many of our Cincinnati dental patients cite sugar as their biggest challenge when it comes to their family’s dental health.

In fact, many more scientists are apt to describe sugar as “an addiction.” Authors in a review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine describe it as “similar to that of cocaine, altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure, leading to the seeking out of sugar.”

One study found that in mice “intermittent access to sugar and chow is capable of producing a ‘dependency.’ This was operationally defined by tests for binging, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization to amphetamine and alcohol.”

Sugar Smacks?

Scientists describe sugar’s effect on the brain as similar to opium. “Sugar addiction seems to be dependence to the natural endogenous opioids that get released upon sugar intake,” according to the study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “In both animals and humans, the evidence in the literature shows substantial parallels and overlap between drugs of abuse and sugar, from the standpoint of brain neurochemistry as well as behavior.”

Indeed, some mice even prefer sugar over cocaine — and yes mice have been known to exhibit sugar withdrawal.

“In animals, it is actually more addictive than even cocaine, so sugar is pretty much probably the most consumed addictive substance around the world and it is wreaking havoc on our health,” cardiovascular research scientist James J DiNicolantonio told the Guardian. He is the co-author of the study.

So maybe you’re not crazy after all. You might be addicted to sugar — a compulsion that is scientifically based in addictive urges.

So What Do You Do About It?

First, separate cravings from actual hunger. If you feel the desire to eat something sweet but are not technically hungry, your body is really just thirsting for that dopamine rush to your brain. If you are hungry, however, cravings can be disastrous. The first thing to do is sit down and eat a healthy meal. Fruit and vegetables that have natural sugars can be a way to satisfy the hunger and taste a little sweetness that’s healthy.

Another good way to deal with pure sugar cravings is to distract yourself. Find another way to get that dopamine award. Go for a walk. Take a shower. Be romantic with your partner. Soak yourself in some nature. Enjoy a good book or your favorite music.

What to Avoid

Whatever you do, don’t skimp on sleep. The better rested you are, the less you’ll be susceptible to sugar tooth breakdowns. Avoid starving yourself — being hungry can lead to sugar indulgences. Also, stay away from artificial sweeteners. Many studies indicate these may actually increase our appetite for sugar and cause us to gain weight.

If you are fighting a sugar addiction, stop keeping sweets around the house. Don’t buy it. If you have to leave the house to feed your addiction, you’ll be less likely to break down.

Talk to your Cincinnati dentist. He or she may be able to suggest techniques or provide positive feedback to help you kick the addiction.

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