Sugar, Addiction and Neurotransmitters

I know there are people out there, even among readers of this newsletter, who believe that sugar is not much of a problem for their health. Parents keep asking me: can’t I just let my child have a normal childhood (with “normal” defined, it seems, as eating a lot of sugar-laden foods)?

Those who fall into this category may want to look up Nancy Appleton’s website Her front page is a bit busy, but if you click on “read how sugar can ruin your health,” you will find 124 detrimental effects of sugar listed with each one backed by published medical research.

As usual, it’s not that the information is not available, it’s just being ignored. While we all know that sugar causes cavities, there are many other harmful effects of sugar that few people ever hear of. A review article recently published in a well-respected medical journal discusses some of these effects. They include acne, early menarche, certain skin cancers, increases in stature, short-sightedness, skin tags, polycystic ovary syndrome, and male vertex balding (Comp Biochem Physiol 2003 Sep; 136 (1): 95-112, PMID 14527633).

For many, the problem is that they’re addicted to sugar, not that they don’t believe it’s bad for them. People have told me that just the thought of cutting out sugar is enough to trigger an uncontrollable binge. I’ve heard from some women that they can do very well for three weeks in a row but one week before their menses they simply lose control. The fact is that sugar is one of the most addictive substances we know.

Actually we have studies dating back to the 1970’s and even earlier showing that the entire cycle of sugar and carbohydrate addiction is induced by a deficiency of serotonin. Serotonin is known to be the “happy” neurotransmitter and it can only be made in the brain from protein. Because sugar does nothing to replenish depleted serotonin, it’s hard to break the addiction cycle.

The natural food supplements L-tryptophan and 5HTP provide the brain with more of the raw material it needs to make serotonin. The same studies mentioned above also showed that when people take these supplements in appropriate doses their cravings abate and their consumption of carbohydrates and overall calories decrease. (J Pharm Pharmacol 1975 Jan; 27 (1): 31-7; Brain Res Bull 1986 Nov; 17 (5): 681-9; Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1986 Oct; 25 (4): 711-6; J Neurol Transm 1989; 76 (2): 109-17).

Armed with this knowledge, physician Marty Hinz, MD, has built a large and successful practice focused entirely on treating weight problems with these types of supplements. Dr. Hinz has also stated repeatedly that in his experience – spanning more than a decade and thousands of patients – these amino acid (protein) supplements work better for appetite control than any medication, including the ill-fated phen-fen combination. For more on Dr. Hinz and his work visit

Julia Ross is a psychotherapist who realized more than fifteen years ago that she could save herself a lot of talk therapy failures if she also gave her patients the natural protein supplements their brains were screaming for. She has since built a very successful practice near San Francisco treating everything from depression to obesity and eating disorders. She has also written two very good books entitled The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure. See for more information.

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