‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’, according to Mary Poppins. This legendary quote is, in fact, backed by science, with studies showing the release of pain-relieving endorphins after the consumption of sugar. This is why children are usually offered a lollipop after vaccination. Indeed, babies’ nervous systems can become more sensitive to pain if they experience pain in the early stages of their lives, and this can last for a significantly long time, so limited exposure to sugar can help to reduce this.
As with everything, however, we must have balance, especially when you consider the statistics around our sugar consumption. In the 1960s Westerners consumed about 5kg of sugar per person per year. Now we consume around 55kg of sugar per person per year, which causes chronic diseases.
With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, and my work as an expert in Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar (IQS)’ programme, it is perfect timing to answer the two most commonly asked questions in the IQS forums.
‘How do I treat a cold/flu without using the sugary over the counter (OTC) throat lozenges and cold/flu remedies?’
There is a plethora of OTC cold and flu remedies that have sugar unnecessarily added to them (a marketing tactic). There are, however, sugar-free alternatives, which include homeopathic remedies and prescription/OTC medications such as paracetamol (ideally used very occasionally).
In terms of nature’s remedies, there are herbal options. A great throat-soothing and immune-boosting blend to drink is hot water, grated ginger, lemon juice and turmeric.
For sweetness, you can add rice malt syrup or stevia if following a sugar-free diet, or honey if not. Last but not least, vitamin infusions have good research to back up their use for easing glandular fever and other viruses.
‘Why do we initially feel awful when we quit sugar?’
Sugar releases dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects the brain’s pleasure and reward centres and is also released in response to sex and recreational drugs. However, too much exposure to sugar downregulates dopamine receptors, meaning we need to eat more sugar to achieve the same pleasurable effects. This is the vicious cycle that can lead to sugar addiction and withdrawal symptoms if sugar is stopped suddenly.
To end this column on a slightly controversial note, be aware of the different names for sugar, as many people may not be aware they are eating too much. The University of California has a fantastic resource at http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/hidden-in-plain-sight/#.W-pByC2B2uU that lists the 61 different names for sugar, such as corn syrup and maltodextrin. The main reason for the many different names for sugar is profit, and profit is the reason that the big food companies have knowingly created sugar addiction in millions of people.
Dr Tracy Chandler BSc (Hons) MBChB FRNZCGP FNZSCM, PGDipSEM, Cert Dermoscopy, Cert Homeopathy, MACNEM member, gained her degree in England and worked as a GP in Timaru before doing postgraduate training in sports, skin and integrative medicine.
She specialised in integrative (wellness) medicine in line with her increasing interest in the impact of nutrition and environment on health and wellbeing.