My Sweet, Sweet Nemesis

Hello, my name is Nan and I am a sugar-aholic.
It is sad, but true.
Worse, I am pretty sure that Sugar is one of the worst things I add to my body. I know this, yet kicking the habit is insanely hard.
By writing it here, I hope to get back on track.

Not so long ago, I spent three years sugar free, artifical sweetener free, simple carbs very very low.  I know it was the strongest, healthiest, most stable I had ever been.

But when stress comes crashing through the door, the first thing every cell of my brain, every twitch of my body screams for is SUGAR. Not chocolate or anything in particular. There are some times when chocolate is the last thing I want. Sugar straight from the bowl would make my brain happier.

When I was in college and my peers were smoking pot, I would eat a 1lb bag of M&Ms and get a better high.

I recently came across this Video:

Honestly, I was not sure if I should write this off as quackery or take it seriously. People who talk in absolutes set off warning red flags in my brain. But the more I ponder it, the more it rings true in my life.

Then on April 13, the NYTimes tackled the issue as well.

And then I had another EDS’er mention that his pain was significantly higher when he ate higher sugar foods.

Then I started thinking about my life long “seasonal” allergies– When I was young, I had “chronic bronchitis”- a cough that never stopped and got evil- from sometime in Feb through May and then again in October or so through Decemberish. Some years, it started in October and went straight through to the end of May. My senior year of college, I coughed so hard I separated my ribs ( of course, the EDS helps to explain that a little as well) As I got older, it was diagnosed more correctly as a mild asthma. It has been well under control for a long time, it has been worse the last two years- mostly, I was sure because my stress levels have been higher. The last two weeks, It has been annoying again. I even thought of getting out my asthma meds the other night.

When I stop and think hard about this- the last two weeks, my sugar consumption has been MUCH higher. And my Asthma has been worse. The three years that I was sugar free– I had basically NO allergy issues– not even in the high pollen seasons.

So then I think back to those seasonal asthma attacks. Maybe it was NOT seasonal as in external allergens… maybe it is a seasonal sugar intake tie– October start with my birthday, then Halloween, then the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays….. quickly followed on by Valentine’s Day and Easter. A Candy eating frenzy. After April, there are hardly any other holidays tied to candy… and the fresh veggies are abundant everywhere. Maybe the season that has been triggering my asthma all of these years is the Candy Season.

Something frightening to ponder. If it triggers my Asthma( an inflammation reaction) what other inflammation reactions is it triggering in my already tender body?

The time has come to do battle with this nemesis again- it will be hard for the first 3 weeks. And I will turn into a cranky, whiny miserable sugar craving ball of mammal— but I will fight through this. I am interested to see what happens to my joint and tendon pain on the other side of this. I started last night by brewing a fresh pitcher of unsweetened ice tea.. I fell down once today, but I am holding out for that as my only falter. Tomorrow, I will falter not at all.

Edits: Here is more information I have found about the ties between the damage Sugar does to collagen-

When blood sugar goes up rapidly, sugar can attach itself to collagen in a process called “glycosylation,” or the Browning Reaction, increasing inflexible and inflammation. CRP is not found in foods. However, its levels in the body are strongly influenced by diet.

Diabetics research has found that antioxidants lower this gycosylation. A plus and maybe a reason why VitaminC and other anti-oxidants help with flexibility and aches.

And this on Inflammation ties:

“Sugar and other refined carbohydrates appear to trigger a chemical reaction that creates pro-inflammatory compounds in the body,” says Andrew Weil, M.D., author of “Healthy Aging.” One 2008 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that healthy people who ate a sugar-rich breakfast had high blood sugar afterward, along with increased signs of inflammation.

In an ongoing Harvard Women’s Health Study, participants who consumed more high-sugar foods, like white bread and cereal, were more likely to have inflammation and high amounts of bad cholesterol (LDL).

In small doses, inflammation is a good thing. Faced with injury or foreign invaders like germs, our immune cells release substances called cytokines, which help destroy bacteria and trigger short-lived redness and swelling. The problems start when sugar consumption goes from an every-now-and-then thing to a full-blown habit, and inflammation is constant and spreads throughout the body, harming healthy tissue over time.

Studies that link high sugar intake to increased inflammation in the body are troubling, says Mark Hyman, M.D., author of “Ultrametabolism.” “Chronic inflammation appears to play a role in heart disease, cancer, and many other major conditions,” he explains. “Anything that triggers inflammation — including sugar — also triggers disease.”

and then this:

Scientists have long linked oedema, arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease with inflammation. Only recently the medical community has implicated the process to diabetes, certain cancers and other unsolvable degenerative conditions. The latest research links heart disease more to various inflammatory conditions than to high cholesterol. Researchers are doing their best to come up with anti-inflammatory drugs and other cures for this inflammation.

Rather than try to find a cure, it might be wise to find out what causes inflammation and stop the cause rather than look for a cure. There are many things that cause inflammation in the body: viral and bacterial infections, surgery, a bruise, a broken bone, allergies, vaccinations, high blood pressure, oestrogen therapy, smoking, obesity, chronic fatigue, and dental problems, among others.

One of the biggest offenders of inflammation is ingestion of sugar. By sugar I mean table sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, honey (even raw), maple sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, glucose, fructose and any other word that ends in an “ose”, barley malt, rice syrup, liquid cane sugar, concentrated fruit juice and others. Don’t be fooled by the name organic when it applies to sugar. Sugar is sugar, organic or not, and the following will explain exactly what can happen in the body when you eat as little as two teaspoons.

Cracking the Pressure Cooker

Stress kept early humans alive, uneaten.
Stress can be a motivator, pushing us past our mental hurdles.
Stress is like alcohol- makes you happy in moderation, Destroys your body in overdoses.
Stress is insidious.( cue movie trailer ;- 0)

When we think of stress, we often think of outside pressures- paying the bills, getting a job, raising our kids.
For some of us stress is also internal- push to succeed, self- expectations.
What we forget is that stress is also a natural body process, triggered and set off by things we may not be monitoring at all.

Our Brain, which both controls and is impacted by stress hormones ( cortisol,Growth Hormone and norepinephrine).  And our Brain is still convinced that we are wandering tribes of nomads, hunted by tooth and claw predators.

Sleep Deprivation? Must be getting chased or on the move for too long, or… something horrible. STRESS.
Too Few Calories? Must be entering a famine period- STRESS
Chronic Pain?  Broken. bad. will be eaten.  STRESS
Too long in one position? movement levels too low? Must be broken, must have an infection- Inflammation and STRESS.
 Afraid? Worried? Must be something  or someone after us. STRESS

If we were really in those positions, cortisol does exactly what you want it to do, and has kept us live for millions of years. But when modern “realities of life” are misinterpreted as threats, the actions of cortisol produce more damage.  Cortisol, either directly or by triggering other chemicals,  blocks insulin, creating a sort of insulin resistance, stimulates the process that increase blood sugar levels, tells your body to store every bit of extra calorie it can as belly fat,destroys collagen, and inhibits bone formation or even breaks down bone. It increases gastric acid formation, inhibits the immune system and the inflammatory response and touches nearly every other metabolic pathway we have.

Norepinephrine is involved in mental processes. It assists with focus and memory- in short doses. Too much and the regulatory pathways of the brain get messed up. At first, too much norepinephrine causes mania, increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Since it is also linked to dopamine, after prolonged raised levels it can also feedback and reduce the amount of dopamine in your brain, which can cause depression. It can also impact Glutamate levels, which impacts the pre-frontal cortex and cognitive function. Although Norepinephrine initially increases focus, over time it decreases focus.  End result? You end up either Hyperactive and unable to focus, or depressed, fog brained and unable to think clearly, or some mixed combination of these. Brain soup.

Here is the real heat in this pressure cooker- Once you have what your body recognizes as a “stress event” ( pulling an all nighter, a weekend of fasting, etc..) the threshold needed to trigger the next stress event is lower. And the next is lower, And the next is lower.  So if you are in a situation of “chronic stress”, soon every little wiggle, every little variation is a STRESS.  Worse? It takes a long time for this to level back off.

So- even if you solve all of your financial, marriage, friend and parenting stresses and you live on easy street, if you live in the modern world that moves fast, is over stimulated, sleeps too little and eats badly? STRESS.

What a treadmill. Seems almost helpless. Add in any kind of chronic illness that also impacts these things and it seems like an impossible battle. Too much effort. Bend up and go home.

For me, what it is taking to beat this is to step completely off the mental merry-go-round and scream “enough!!”.  

Don’t get me wrong- this is not magical. There is no silver bullet and I am not “all better”. I still have days when every little thing makes me want to cry.  I have days when the pain hurts so much i just want to curl into a little ball and give up.  But I can start to see the difference.  In December, I could not remember a list of 3 things. My memory was GONE.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I had some cognitive testing done by a psychiatrist and my memory and cognitive functions came out as superior. It still seemed like more work than it should have been ( my memory used to be effortless), but the doctor told me I scored higher than he did.
Back in December, it was hard to hold a conversation. From sentence to sentence, I could not hold on to my train of thought.  People could tell me things and four sentences later, I had forgotten.  Now I am back to writing and working. I have started podcasting and am actively job hunting. Socializing energizes me, rather than exhausting me and I can get up in the morning and remember what I discussed the day before.

So what have I changed?

  • I am trying to get more sleep. From 4 hours a night to a target of 8. I do not regularly hit my 8 yet, but i also sometimes nap.  Almost every night, I get at least 6 hours of sleep. I will get there eventually. 
  • Vitamin B mix vitamin supplement. Not just the 100% of vitamin B in the regular multi-vitamins, but an overdose of Bs, especially B12 and niacin. ( you pee out extra, it is safe). 
  • Increase omega3s in my diet. Omega3s block the release of cortisol, lowering it and buffer the stress level that will trigger the next release. 
  • Distraction. Getting busy and thinking about something other than how much my body hurts and how miserable this all is. This seems like a mental trick, but remember part of the cycle is in the brain. The things you think impact your neurotransmitters. 
  • Making sure I eat well. whole foods, enough calories, a variety. Nothing my body could distort into a mistaken stress signal- especially since it is so “trigger happy” at this point of my life. 
  • Meditation and physical activity- both of which change neurotransmitters in the brain- even in little doses. 

What is the stress in your life? How can you crack the pressure cooker?

Most importantly, I know this will be a slow process of small changes- sometimes so small i can not even notice them, so i get feedback from the people around me and my goals are long term. This time next year, I hope to be out of the Stress Pressure Cooker and just merely grilling.

Whoa! That’ll clear up sinuses

Tomorrow Sam starts back to school at a new school, so while we were folder and notebook shopping, I bought a bag of little bags of potato chips for lunches as a treat. They are awful, they are environmentally evil, I know all of this. I never buy them, but I was just in the mood to take the sting off this whole thing for her a little bit. And they have little bags of Fritos in them. I was craving a Frito so badly I could taste it, and it has easily been over a year since I have had one.
Eating the Fritos not only would have broken the diet in an evil way, they probably would have had me doubled over in pain, because of the fat content. I was resisting, but it was making me nuts. So I decided to chaw on a piece of a sourdough pretzel to ease the craving a bit. And we have this really yummy looking stone ground horseradish mustard in the fridge that Ogre bought for NYE… it seemed a logical thing to squirt and dip the pretzel, just to kill the deep flavor craving.
Oiy. This is good mustard, but this is NOT a dipping mustard. I never had a bite of pretzel that cleared my sinuses and made my eyes water before…
It did, however, successfully kill the craving for Fritos…now I am pondering the 20 minute power nap.