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What Causes Sugar Cravings?

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights

America is a society of sugar-lovers, and the love of sugar is rapidly becoming more than just a Western culture problem. As the obesity crisis rises all over the world, the discussion about how sugar plays into our weight problems has become a global conversation. 

We know sugar isn’t nutritionally dense and doesn’t offer any notable health benefits, but our desire to consume it isn’t wavered by this awareness. The cause of our sugar consumption instead lies a little deeper. 

Embedded in our brain chemistry are receptors that respond to sugar, and cause the phenomenon of craving. Even though we know it isn’t healthy, even if we may experience severe negative health impacts, we continue to go back to the cane, like an alcoholic to their drinks. 

Let’s take a closer look at what causes sugar cravings, what’s going on scientifically, and how to combat them and break the sugar cycle. 

Why Do We Crave Sugar?

Sugar is addictive, whether you want to believe it or not. It’s a proven fact that sugar triggers the same response in our brains that addictive drugs do. They stimulate the hippocampus and cause the release of dopamine and opioids that make us feel good. 

Just like other addictive substances, not everyone who consumes sugar will become addicted to it. However, in laboratory tests, the same repetitive pattern of addiction can be seen with sugar as it is with other substances. 

Take, for instance, the act of binging. When test subjects were not given sugar for extended periods of time and then given access to it for a limited period of time, they were more likely to consume unusually large amounts of it in a process called binging. 

Subjects also experienced symptoms of withdrawal (like anxiety and depression) when sugar was withheld from them, and they expressed craving and cross-sensitization to other addictive substances.

Sugar interferes with the way your brain releases oxytocin, making it more difficult for your brain to make enough on its own. This causes a cycle of craving sugar to produce the oxytocin, which is detrimental to your brain’s own ability to create oxytocin. 

What Causes Sugar Cravings?

Aside from the scientific proof that our brains are capable of physically craving sugar, there are certain triggers that can cause you to crave sugar more than you normally do. This includes blood sugar imbalances, a diet lacking the proper nutrition, stress, poor sleep, and just the plain fact that sugar feels comforting to us.

Blood Sugar Imbalances

You don’t have to be a diabetic to experience issues with your blood sugar. Imbalanced blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance that eventually develops into diabetes, but a precursor to both resistance and diabetes is blood sugar that isn’t properly balanced. 

When you eat sugar, your body reacts by signaling the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin enters your bloodstream to help reduce the circulating levels of glucose, sending some of it into cells to be used as fuel, and the excess to the liver to be stored as glycogen. 

Problems arise when you eat excessive amounts of sugar. The pancreas responds by producing an excessive amount of insulin, which can cause your blood sugar to drop dramatically after it spikes from the sugar intake. This can cause you to crave sugar to compensate for the drop in your blood sugar. 

Eventually, your body can become resistant to insulin. Either your pancreas cannot keep up and doesn’t produce enough insulin to keep up with your sugar intake, or your cells simply become resistant to the effects of insulin, which causes your blood sugar to be higher than it normally would be. 

Your Diet Has Holes

You need fat, protein, and carbohydrates to stay healthy. These are known as macronutrients. Your body also needs numerous micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, to stay well. When there are holes in your dietary intake, you’re likely to compensate by eating sugar. 

If you aren’t getting enough protein or fat, or aren’t getting enough complex carbohydrates, your body will compensate by craving sugar. Making sure you have a balanced diet will not only help you feel full, but it will also reduce your sugar cravings, too. 

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You’re Stressed

Stress is a double-edged sword. There are healthy levels of stress that are short-term and help us complete tasks or meet a deadline, but when stress is chronic, it causes harm. 

Stress releases a hormone called cortisol. In turn, cortisol causes the liver to convert its glycogen stores back to glucose to be released into the bloodstream. This triggers a spike in your bloodstream, which signals the pancreas to pump out insulin. 

Insulin lowers your blood sugar, and you experience a classic spike and dip in your blood sugar that can create a craving for more sugar. 

You Aren’t Sleeping Well

There’s a difference between getting average sleep and quality sleep. Quality, uninterrupted sleep (and enough of it) is crucial to maintaining your overall wellness, but it also helps you fight off sugar cravings. 

When you’re tired, you probably find yourself reaching for more coffee than you’d normally drink, and chances are you’re drinking flavored lattes and fraps instead of just a cup of black coffee with a little cream. 

When we are tired, we use sugar to get that instant spike of energy we feel after we first consume it, however, the following crash usually makes us want more, and we get trapped in the sugar cycle. 

Sugar Is Comforting

We know the power of comfort food. Scientifically, comfort foods activate receptors in our brains that help us feel calm when we are stressed. It’s why we reach for ice cream after a particularly hard day, or stress-eat our favorite foods even if we aren’t hungry. 

These receptors, called PPARs, are located in the hippocampus and can be stimulated and satiated by foods other than those that are high in calories and sugar content. 

Let’s look at how to break the sugar cycle and how a surprising little fatty acid could be the key to your success in kicking sugar cravings to the curb.

How To Break the Sugar Cycle

Ditching sugar isn’t something you do overnight. While it’s possible to cut it out cold turkey, you could experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, fatigue, and yes, cravings. A better way is to carve out a plan and stick to it. Here’s how. 

1. Make a Plan To Cut Sugar

Your plan to eliminate sugar should be easy and sustainable. If you’re used to using sugar in your coffee every day, for instance, consider halving the amount you typically use and tapering off over the course of a few days. 

It’s also important to speak to your healthcare provider if you have any health concerns or are on a special diet. 

2. Make Sure To Eat Enough Food

Many of us simply don’t eat enough quality food. You have numerous options when it comes to getting in your daily calories. Make sure you make wise choices and choose nutrient-dense foods that keep you full and provide everything your body needs to stay well. 

You don’t need to eliminate carbohydrates, but make sure the carbs you choose are complex. Complex carbohydrates like whole grain wheats, vegetables, seeds, and nuts, take longer to digest and don’t cause an intense spike and crash in your bloodstream. 

3. Drink Plenty of Water

It’s estimated that 75% of all Americans are chronically dehydrated. Dehydration causes your body to crave not just fluid, but additional food. If you aren’t consuming enough water, your body will search for hydration from the foods you eat. 

Making sure you are properly hydrated can help you cut down on excess calories, which are often consumed from sources like processed, packaged foods. 

Eat Healthy Sweets

Nature has plenty of natural sugar that’s also packed with fiber. Fruits and vegetables contain sugar and dietary fiber that pairs perfectly in your digestive tract. 

Fiber helps you feel fuller longer, and also helps keep your blood sugar from spiking, so you won’t experience a spike and crash when you eat an apple like you do when you eat a candy bar. 

Take Pentadecanoic Acid

It seems a little strange that a fatty acid could help you with sugar cravings, but the evidence is in

Pentadecanoic acid, also known as C15:0, is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that a growing body of research suggests can help bind to the same receptors in the hippocampus (PPARs) that sugar does.* 

What does this mean for sugar cravings? It means that by taking a C15:0 supplement, you can effectively give your body a better option for feeling satisfied, regulated, and balanced.* C15:0 binds to the same receptors that control processes like mood, hunger, immunity, and even sleep. 

Taking C15:0 is easy. Fatty15 is the first and only supplement to offer the pure, vegan form of C15:0, known as FA15™. With just one tiny capsule a day, you can support your health and add an additional layer of proactive power to your health stack.*

You can kick the sugar habit, and fatty15 can help. Give your cells (and your PPAR receptors) a fighting chance against sugar cravings by making a few lifestyle changes and taking the only C15:0 supplement that helps you resist cravings naturally. 

 

Reviewed by Dr. Eric Venn-Watson.

 

Sources:

Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake|NCBI 

Behavioral sensitization and cross-sensitization between methylphenidate amphetamine, and 3-4, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in female SD rats|NCBI 

Adult Dehydration - StatPearls 
Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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