It’s not surprising news that too much sugar is bad for us. From increasing the risk of heart disease to promoting tooth decay, the list of ills associated with added sugars goes on and on. Not only that, but scientists are constantly determining new ways that sugar is harmful to human health. One of the lesser-known downsides of a diet high in refined sugar? It may put people at higher risk for opioid addiction and overdose. Here’s a closer look at the detrimental impact of sugar on America’s opioid crisis.
The Link Between Sugar and Opioid Addiction
Thousands of people die every year in the United States of opioid-related overdoses. Millions more are addicted. While opioids have rightfully been identified as a severe threat to public health, another culprit may also be to blame. It’s refined sugar. According to research published in the Journal of Opioid Management, there are “demonstrated associations between opioid consumption and sugar intake and metabolism in human and nonhuman subjects.”
Specifically, refined sugar may activate the brain’s reward centers in the same way that addictive drugs do. Furthermore, opioids are also associated with poor eating habits, malnutrition, and a preference for sugary energy-dense foods.
Several studies have been conducted on the impact of the common food additive high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The findings were troubling. “Our experiments show that chronic exposure to high fructose corn syrup had an impact on both the neural and behavioral responses to oxycodone, resulting in changes likely to affect drug-taking and drug-seeking behavior. They suggest that a high sugar diet may dampen the reward associated with a given dose of oxycodone. And that this may cause people to consume more of the drug,” concludes Medical Xpress.
The Nutrition Imperative
The overall takeaway? Intake of HFCS may directly influence how the body responds to opioids. The implication also suggests that limiting added sugar intake can have benefits during addiction treatment and recovery. “We can win the war on opioid addiction only if we tackle the problem from multiple angles. Our findings, and those of other laboratories, strongly suggest that prevention of unhealthy diets may not only help reduce the obesity epidemic, but also reduce environmental factors that may predispose to opioid addiction,” conclude scientists.
Nutrition is especially important given that alcohol and certain drugs deplete the body of essential nutrients while others increase or suppress the appetite. Furthermore, unhealthy diets may also amplify symptoms caused by drug withdrawal, such as headaches, sleep issues, and low energy levels.
All of this begs the question: what should people in addiction treatment eat? Says US News & World Report in an article on the best foods to eat during recovery, “While any whole food is good for your recovery, certain whole foods are especially good for early recovery because their nutrients can boost brain health and mood, alleviate some of the mental and physical symptoms of withdrawal, and speed the healing process.”
These include whole foods containing the amino acid tyrosine, such as bananas, lean beef, lamb and pork, whole grains and cheese; whole foods that are rich in L-glutamine, such as carrots, beans, beets, and protein-rich foods; antioxidant-packed whole foods, such as berries, pecans, onions and artichokes; GABA-boosting whole foods, such as kefir, shrimp and cherry tomatoes; and whole foods containing tryptophan, such as turkey, tuna fish, cheese, beans, and lentils.
The benefits of a healthy lifestyle during addiction recovery are many. Eating a well-balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising all add up to natural nourishment with healing potential. Avoiding added sugars can further support successful recovery. Choosing the right rehab facility is also integral to laying the foundation for the journey to a substance-free life. Enter Harris House, which has been providing targets rehabilitation services in the St. Louis area for more than 50 years. Call us today to learn about admissions.