Is Your Sweet Tooth an Addiction?

Are you a sweet food junkie? A slave to Snickers and soft drinks? Do you rely on that mid-afternoon sugar rush to get you through the day?

Then you may well have a sugar addiction, according to Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of "Beat Sugar Addiction Now."

Over three decades of treating patients struggling with fatigue, pain and obesity, Teitelbaum has identified what he says are four types of sugar addicts and in his recent book, he explains what causes these issues and how to kick the sugar habit.

"There are changes in our metabolism, in the stress hormones, that drive us to eat sugar," says Teitelbaum, who is also director of the National Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. "I would classify it as an addiction."

But Teitelbaum's approach is a controversial one. Because many of his theories about sugar addiction come from his work with patients -- and not peer-reviewed studies -- his methods are met with skepticism by many dieticians.

"I don't think we have the science to support the notion that sugar is addictive," says Samantha Heller, registered dietitian and author of "Get Smart: Samantha Heller's Nutrition Prescription For Boosting Brain Power & Optimizing Total Body Health."

Heller also points out that an article published in the journal Clinical Nutrition in June found that there is no evidence that sugar -- or any food for that matter -- can actually become addicting to humans.

But regardless of whether you can actually be a "sugar addict," physicians and dieticians agree that America has got a huge and problematic sweet tooth -- one that is exacerbating numerous health concerns such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

The Four Types of Sugar Junkies

According to Teitelbaum, overdosing the body with sugar, especially over the course of months or years, can lead to many physical and mental maladies that sufferers often don't realize stem from their diet.

Obesity, weakened immune system, chronic fatigue, hormonal problems and gastrointestinal issues are some of the more common effects of long-term sugar addiction, Teitelbaum says. Psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression, can also be aggravated by consuming too much sugar.

Those who are chronically fatigued -- whether from lack of sleep, overworking or poor nutrition -- tend to reach for caffeine, sugar, or most often both, in the form of soda and energy drinks. These are what Teitelbaum calls Type 1 sugar addicts.

The cure? For all forms of sugar addiction, Teitelbaum suggests cutting back on sugar (and/or replacing it with sugar-free alternatives), cutting out excess caffeine intake, eating more whole, unprocessed foods, and getting enough sleep.

For Type 1 addicts specifically, he adds regular exercise and nutritional supplements to support the body's immune system.

Some people turn to sugar (and caffeine) to fuel their fast-paced, high stress life. These people often get anxious and irritable when they get hungry due to low blood sugar, says Teitelbaum, and he calls them Type 2 addicts. They are constantly in a fight-or-flight mindset, which causes stress and overtaxes the adrenal system.

Vitamin B5 and licorice are specifically recommended for these addicts, Teitelbaum says, in addition to lifestyle changes to reduce stress levels.

Teitelbaum's Type 3 addict is controversial among dieticians. These addicts, he says, have an overgrowth of yeast in their gut because of the sugar in their diet.

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