Tag Archives: addiction

Gluten and dairy are like addictive drugs to the brain

738 gluten dairy addictiveScientists have proven what many of us have learned the hard way: Gluten, dairy, and processed foods trigger addictive responses in the same way commonly abused drugs do. The more processed (i.e., high carb) and fatty a food is, the more likely it is to cause addiction, and the most addictive foods contain cheese, with pizza taking top honors.

This is due in part to the high-glycemic load of these foods — processed carbs, like pizza crust or a donut, are rapidly absorbed by the body and quickly spike blood sugar before causing it to crash. This triggers areas of the brain as well as hormonal responses that stimulate cravings.

In fact, in a 2013 study, scientists used brain scans to observe brain function after subjects ate foods high in processed carbohydrates as well as foods low on the glycemic index, such as vegetables.

They observed that the subjects who ate the processed foods were hungrier and experienced surges and crashes in blood sugar in contrast to the low-glycemic eaters. They were also more prone to overeating and to choosing more high-glycemic foods compared to the low-glycemic eaters, whose blood sugar remained stable.

Brain scans showed the subjects eating the starchy foods also exhibited more blood flow to the right side of the brain in areas associated with reward, pleasure, and cravings in the high-glycemic eaters. This can drive people to overeat and indulge in yet more starchy foods, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

We also know high-carb foods cause imbalances in the hormones insulin and leptin, which increase hunger and promote fat storage over fat burning.

Gluten and dairy cause opioid responses

Gluten and dairy can be addictive for additional reasons — they trigger an opioid response in the brains of some people. In fact, these people may go through very uncomfortable withdrawls when they go cold turkey off these foods.

The opioid created by the digestion of milk protein is called casopmorphin while the gluten opioid is called gluteomorphin.

These food-derived opioids activate the same opioid receptors in the brain that respond to prescription pain pills and heroin.

The effect is compounded in processed cheese and processed gluten products.

The worst part of a food-based opioid sensitivity is that going gluten-free or dairy-free can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. These can include depression, mood swings, or worsened gut problems.

It is similar to heroin or pain pill withdrawals, only not as severe.

Because gluten and dairy are among the most common causes of food sensitivities, many people have to eliminate them from their diet. Although this is difficult for most everyone, for the person who also experiences opioid responses to them, going gluten-free and dairy-free can mean a couple of weeks of misery.

If this occurs, plan ahead and know you have to weather the withdrawal symptoms until you’ve kicked the addiction.

It’s important to further support yourself by avoiding high-glycemic processed foods so you don’t trigger your brain’s craving mechanisms.

For more advice, contact me.

Could loneliness be the cause of addiction?

loneliness causes addiction copy

Everyone is familiar with addiction to some degree, whether it’s that daily dose of chocolate you can’t give up or watching a loved one succumb to drug abuse. Many factors play a role in addiction, but some research suggests loneliness plays a pivotal role in encouraging addiction, and that taking measures to remedy loneliness can be powerful therapy.

Addiction can apply to any substance or activity (alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, food, gambling, Facebook, etc.) that delivers pleasure but becomes compulsive and interferes with daily life and health. The addict is often not aware his or her behavior is out of control. Addiction is recognized as being a reaction to emotional stress; loneliness is so stressful it carries the same mortality risk as smoking and is twice as dangerous as obesity. Our physiological aversion to loneliness stems from our days as hunters and gatherers, when connection with others improved the odds of survival.

Research shows loneliness impairs the brain’s ability to exercise control over our desires, emotions, and behaviors –- the sort of qualities necessary to maintain healthy habits and avoid bad ones. This is called having executive control  and without it, we are more susceptible to addictive behaviors. Loneliness also triggers our fight-or-flight stress hormones, further creating that need for relief that erodes willpower and propels addictive behavior.

Studies show social connection inhibits addiction

In older studies on addiction, rats placed in cages with a bottle of pure water and a bottle of water laced with heroin or cocaine inevitably chose the drugged water until it killed them. The rats were alone.

However, rats kept in a comfortable cage with plenty of friends, fun activities and toys sampled the drug-laced water but mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats consumed. Also, unlike the isolated rats who became heavy drug users, none of the socialized rats died.

After two months of addictive drug use, researchers then took the isolated rats and put them in the fun, socially active cages. The rats exhibited withdrawal symptoms initially and then voluntarily gave up their addiction, despite the availability of the drug-laced water.

Researchers saw similar outcomes in humans during the Vietnam War, during which about 20 percent of soldiers became addicted to heroin. Of those who returned home, about 95 percent simply stopped using heroin, presumably because they shifted from a “terrifying” cage to a safer, more comfortable one.

And although painkiller addiction has become a serious national problem, the majority of people temporarily prescribed pain pills for an injury or surgery don’t become addicted, even after months of use. These examples show evidence that drug addiction is not just a chemical dependency.

The remedy for addiction is connection

With one of the worst drug problems in Europe, Portugal put these principles to test. It jettisoned the war on drugs and instead poured resources into reconnecting addicts with their own feelings, other people, and a feeling of purpose through job programs. A follow-up study showed the program reduced the use of injected drugs by 50 percent.

Humans are wired to connect and bond with one another. If we can’t bond with other people we bond with the source of our addiction. Nutritional therapy, supplemental support (amino acids in particular can positively influence brain chemistry), and other functional medicine strategies can encourage healthy brain behavior that reduces addictive tendencies. However, it’s vitally important to also address the psychological and spiritual underpinnings of addiction, which often include loneliness and isolation.