Sugar, our sweet demon of Disguise

Who would have thought that our sweet indulgences could wreak havoc in our bodies and namely the brain?  Much has been written about the negative effects  of over consuming sugar, and the latest documentary “Fed Up” further unveils the demons of the North American diet and its obvious and less obvious heavily sugared palate.  Sugar is not all bad.  Our brain needs glucose. Our neurons are unable to store glucose so it relies on the bloodstream to give it a steady supply.  But too much of a “good thing” inevitably becomes bad  and can actually turn around and deprive your brain of glucose.  In turn this can compromise your ability to concentrate, remember and learn.

When we eat too much sugar and refined carbohydrates, our body compensates by pumping out more insulin to even out our blood sugar.  Too much insulin is a major cause of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. Excessive insulin can lead to mood and behavior disturbances such as depression, panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia and ADHD. It increases inflammation and oxidative stress and ages your brain leading to what is now referred to as Type 3 diabetes  or Alzheimer’s disease. A team of researchers at a medical school in Rhode Island, U.S. first coined this usage in 2005 after publishing a study concluding that the brain, not just the pancreas, produces insulin.  It suggest that the brain’s inability to produce insulin may lead to Alzheimer’s and diabetics have an increased chance of developing this.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadians downed 110 grams of sugar per day in 2004 from all of its sources.  That is equivalent to 26 teaspoons, way over the recommended amount of 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men.  Over a year that is 88 pounds of sugar.  To make matters worse, on average a nine-year-old boy will consume 123 lbs.  and male teens 138 lb.  The primary source of these exorbitant amounts are soft drinks.


If we are going to win the battle of overindulgence with sugar, we need to know what it is and the forms it takes.

One step to control our intake is to admit sugar is sugar and comes in many disguises. So buyer beware of its’ incognito counterparts, including agave nectar, brown rice syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, honey, glucose, lactose, malt syrup, molasses and sucrose.  You would be surprised just how much sugar you are really eating even if you do pass up on sugary desserts. So check your labels …if any of these appear to be in the top four ingredients, beware!








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What’s The Gut Got to Do With It?


As previously mentioned in Dowsing the Brain With Sleep, inflammations are the body’s attempt to defend itself against infection, toxins, and foreign molecules.  But the problem arises when inflammation is chronic or ongoing.  Then it attacks cells and tissues of your own body and that includes the brain.  Sixty per cent of the immune system lies in the digestive tract and when this system is off balance, the immune system is triggered and widespread inflammation if the result.  As no man is an island unto himself, no body organ functions totally on its own.


Every part of a person’s body and cell communicates with other parts of the body and every other cell.   As Dr. Mark Hyman says, “Good communication is good health.  There is a lot of talk going on between your brain, immune system, gut and hormones”


The gut is often considered to be the second brain as it has its own nervous system and neurotransmitters similar to the brain.  It oversees how food triggers a series of events through the body and the brain.  When the either the immune or nervous system overreact to food substances that are normally okay, problems occur.


Three basic reactions to food can affect the brain. Abnormal reactions can cause inflammation, which inflames the brain. Small partially digested food proteins from things such as gluten and casein can disturb normal neurotransmitter function in the brain and lastly, they can increase glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) that can cause a chain reactions leading to ultimately killing brain cells.


Compare the intricacies of the brain to a dance.  When the coordination and synchronization is lost, the dance falters. When communication fails and synchronization of transmitters is altered, we see altered behavior, mood and memory or in other words, brain fog, trouble focusing feeling sad or angry after eating. While sensitivities vary with each individual the following are common:  gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, soy, nuts, nightshades, citrus and yeast. You may have to eliminate all of these foods for a couple of weeks and then reintroduce them one by one to see what affects you negatively.  Reaction time can take 24 to 48 hours, so it is important to introduce one thing at a time.


“Treat the body, Heal the Brain” Dr. Mark Hyman


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Create Your Sleep Sanctuary

Now that we know the importance of sleep, here are some familiar and not so familiar steps you can take to create the best environment and scenario for the best sleep possible.  Some of these tips may be obvious for some but hopefully there is something here that addresses an issue you may have. Get stimulants out of your system well before bed time. This can include some medications geared as antidepressants or ADD. Then there is the obvious , that being anything containing caffeine such as coffee, tea and chocolate.   Another item considered a stimulant is nicotine so avoid it as well.  Items that seem to relax you such as alcohol, pain medication and marijuana also disrupt sleep as the body metabolizes them and actually interrupts you sleep.

If sugar makes you hyper or jittery or you find it increases your energy, it too should be avoided in the afternoon. For some this may mean avoiding starches as they turn into sugar once you eat them. Some benefit greatly by avoiding naps.  The problem is that those who do have problems sleeping, a nap can be refreshing but it does interfere and can disrupt the nighttime sleep cycle.  Exercise , even though you feel tired, might be the better option but again this should be done a couple of hours before bedtime as vigorous exercise can be energizing and keep people awake. Get prepared for sleep. Take a look around your bedroom… is it conducive to sleep? Are there things that would be stimulating or distracting such as cell phones, clocks facing you, televisions, computers?  Your bedroom should be comfortable so control the light and temperature.

Sound therapy can help to induce a very peaceful mood and help relaxation. There are a number of places where you can buy a variety of soothing sounds.  Its a matter of taste . White noise, for example, was first discovered by Thomas Edison, that playing noise effectively in all audible spectrums, that this particular sound blocked out distractions. Now with modern technology,  white noise has moved forward to generate pink and brown noise. Now brown noise is known for deep sleep and relaxation. Many benefit from sticking to a regular sleeping schedule and staying on it as changing sleep patterns by staying up too late or oversleeping on weekends  can trigger disruptions in sensitive people.  Meditation and warm baths can induce relaxation or reading something that is not anxiety provoking helps to prepare oneself for sleep.  The transition time for sleeping is important for most.  Taking the time to put aside busyness and focus on calming activities, such as what has just been mentioned, gives you time to relax and unwind before going to sleep.

Supplements and herbs that can help with are calcium, magnesium and B6. Herbs such as kava kava, chamomile, valerian and melatonin  will affect sleep in different ways.  Kava kava reduces anxiety while valerian (over time) will induce sleep quickly.  Foods that help produce melatonin are walnuts and dairy.  Both contain tryptophan  which produce serotonin and melatonin.  Eating a salad has sedative properties as it contains lactucarium which affects the brain similarly as opium.  Almonds are rich in magnesium which helps you stay asleep and foods high in B6 like tuna,  salmon, and hummus help produce melatonin.  Experiment and see what works for you. “We are such stuff on which dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” William Shakespeare

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