Health Check: sugar addiction
Take a trip to any store that sells food, and you'll see items featuring vast amounts of sugar displayed prominently -- everything from candy, to energy drinks to fruit juice.

It's no surprise considering Americans' obsession with sugar.

"No one is saying sugar's bad," said Dr. Roger Laroche, an addiction specialist with Allina Health.

While sugar in moderation isn't bad, it can become a problem if you consume too much of it.

"Obesity, high triglycerides, stroke, hypertension, all of that," Dr. Laroche said. "Any cardiovascular disorder is much amplified because of sugar, in effect, of too much sugar in the system."

Yet despite the obvious health concerns of too much sugar consumption, Dr. Laroche says sugar can be addictive, thanks to an abnormality in the brain's reward system called the nucleus accumbens.

"Sugar is a very potent activator of the nucleus accumbens, and some people are genetically predisposed to that. Others, not so much," Dr. Laroche said.

In other words, for some people, sugar can be just as addictive as cocaine or gambling. But addiction is different than having a sweet tooth.

"Most humans have a sweet-tooth, meaning they enjoy the taste of sugar," Dr. Laroche said. "Addiction means we are mal-adapted in our attempt to get sugar, in our preoccupation with sugar, in our consumption of sugar. And with consequences of that consumption."

He says people with an addiction to sugar generally know it, but weaning yourself off of sugar can be a challenge. So it's important to have a plan.

"A plan usually refers to the accountability people around us," he said. "Be open and seek a partnership with your spouse, your family, your friend. Talk with your physician."

Most people with a sugar addiction also have health consequences, which is why Dr. Laroche says it's imperative to get help.

"High sugar levels in our system ultimately will be our demise," he said.

To wean yourself off of sugar, experts say you can cut down on packaged and processed foods, cut out sugary drinks, and don't quit cold turkey, but rather, decrease your sugar intake gradually.

For a list of tips, go to the Allina Health, HealthySetGo website.

Delane Cleveland

Sept. 12, 2017


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