Sugar on the brain

Sugar. It is without a doubt something that takes the edge off, it gives us comfort and provides us with energy. It is found in much of what we eat and yet modern research is suggesting it is toxic to the human body and may even be considered a drug. It is linked to physical symptoms related to diabetes, heart disease and obesity and many mentally sited symptoms such as memory loss and addiction.

Sugar jar image


Humans have not always eaten sugar apart from what is naturally contained in foods such as fruits and grains, and certainly they have not eaten it in the quantities now consumed world wide. At the end of the medieval period, table sugar was considered a “fine spice” and was still very expensive. Around 1500, technological improvements and more convenient sources meant sugar became a cheaper bulk commodity. Beginning in the late 18th century, the production of sugar was increasingly mechanized which reduced the fuel required and the amount of sugar lost in the process eventually making sugar affordable to the masses. High-fructose corn syrup was first developed in 1957. It can be six times sweeter than table sugar and was added to many processed foods and drinks in the United States from around 1975 to 1985. It is now added to processed foods as a sweetener or preservative.

Different types of sugars

Not all sugars are metabolized the same way in our body. Glucose is the preferred energy source. We process most carbohydrates into glucose, either to use immediately for energy or to store in muscle cells or the liver as glycogen. Our glucose levels signal that insulin is to be secreted to facilitate the entry of the glucose into cells. Fructose is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables but is not metabolized in all cells but only in the liver. Unlike glucose, it does not cause insulin to be released or to stimulate the production of leptin, a key hormone for regulating energy intake and energy expenditure.

Sucrose, or table sugar, is made from sugar cane or sugar beets and some fruits and vegetables naturally contain it. Sucrose contains one molecule of fructose and one molecule of glucose. After it is broken down in the body, both sugars are taken up by their specific transport mechanisms as described above. The body responds to the glucose in its usual manner and uses it as its main energy source. The excess energy from the fructose, if not required, will be transferred into fat synthesis. High-fructose corn syrup contains from 55% to 90% fructose, the rest is glucose and possibly other sugars.

Current science argues that each of these sugars eventually ends up as glucose and fructose in our guts, and because our bodies react the same way to both, and the physiological effects are identical no one form of sugar is more deleterious than another.

So what is the problem?

Robert Lustig, an American pediatric endocrinologist, argues that the way the human body metabolizes fructose makes it singularly harmful, especially if consumed in large quantities. The calories are the same, the taste is the same, but the metabolic consequences are quite different.

The glucose from sugar and starches, such as an apple, is metabolized by every cell in the body because every cell readily converts glucose into energy while the fructose component of sugar, from say a soda drink with ‘empty’ calories, is metabolized primarily by the liver turning it into useable glucose and lactate. This means the soda is more work for the liver. A super sized soda is even more problematic, since the speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes fructose and glucose. If fructose hits the liver in large quantity and with high speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This may lead the way to insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease, certain cancers and many other possible health problems.

Insulin resistance is basically a metabolic syndrome when the cells in the body are actively ignoring the action of the hormone insulin. We secrete insulin when we eat food, especially carbohydrates, to regulate blood sugar levels. When the cells become resistant to insulin, the pancreas responds by pumping out more and more insulin. Eventually the pancreas will no longer keep up with the demand and the blood sugar will rise out of control.

Life without the liver

The liver is one of the organs necessary for survival and although the organ’s total number of functions vary, most textbooks generally put it at around 500 or so.
Since fructose taxes the liver, it may not have much energy left for all its other functions. One consequence of this energy depletion is the production of uric acid linked to gout, kidney stones and high blood pressure. Lustig suggests the harm is really in the amounts and not that sugar itself is harmful. By the early 2000s the U.S.D.A. findings suggest the average American consumes between 75 and 90 pounds per year beyond what they might naturally consume in fruits and vegetables. The suggested healthy range would be 40 pounds of ‘added sugars.’

Another major issue is the need for fiber to metabolize sugar. Processed foods are made by removing fiber and adding sugars. The removal of fiber is damaging because it reduces the time it takes for food to become a usable form of glucose for the body. Insulin stimulates the liver and muscle cells to store glucose. Processed foods tax beta cells by boosting them to produce insulin faster.

There is also the effect of a weakened liver on the brain. The relationship between these two organs has been known for many years. Patients typically present early with liver disease or later with neurological syndrome which consists of various subtle neuropsychiatric symptoms such as a change in behaviour or performance at school and abnormality of movement.

Is sugar a drug?

I don’t know many people who have cut sugar cold turkey for more than a month. If you have ever tried it, you may have found it nearly impossible. The fact that some people can’t actually stop eating it if they seriously tried would suggest that sugar is addictive.

Nicole M. Avena, Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel published the results of a such a study in 2008. “Addiction” implies psychological dependence and is therefore a mental or cognitive problem, not just a physical ailment. Drug dependence is characterized by compulsive, sometimes uncontrollable, behaviors that occur at the expense of other activities and intensify with repeated access. After a month of specialized sugar feeding schedule, rats exhibited a series of behaviors similar to the effects of drugs of abuse categorized as “bingeing” (unusually large bouts of intake), opiate-like “withdrawal” (indicated by signs of anxiety and behavioral depression), “craving” (measured during sugar abstinence as enhanced responding for sugar) and “behavioral sensitization” (increased locomotion in response to repeated administrations of a drug). These four categories of behaviour are similar to those observed with the abuse of drugs.

Chemically, sugar has a powerful affect on the reward centers of the brain. After we consume food with a lot of sugar, a massive amount of dopamine is released in the Nucleus accumbens in the brain. However, if we eat sugary food often, the dopamine receptors start to down-regulate which means there are fewer receptors for the dopamine. Similar to the experience with drugs such as nicotine and cocaine, the next time we eat a sweet food, the previous effect is blunted so we would need to consume more sugar to achieve the same feeling. Comparable to any type of addiction, there can be anatomical changes in the brain and this can lead to a full-blown addiction to sugar.

If we pay attention we may also notice withdrawal symptoms when sugar is completely removed from the diet such as headaches, mood swings and lethargy. This can happen with many types of foods and drugs and can correspond to an allergy or sensitivity to the food or drug as much as an addiction.

Sugar tricks the mind

As we eat, the human body strictly regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. Glucose stimulates the pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin, which helps remove excess glucose from blood, and bolsters production of the hormone leptin, which suppresses hunger. Fructose does not trigger insulin production and appears to raise levels of the hormone grehlin, which keeps us hungry. Some researchers have suggested that large amounts of fructose encourage people to eat more than they actually need. In studies with animals and people by Kimber Stanhope and other researchers of the University of California Davis, excess fructose consumption has increased fat production, especially in the liver, and raised levels of circulating triglycerides, which are a risk factor for clogged arteries and cardiovascular disease. Some research has linked a fatty liver to insulin resistance, a condition that exhausts the pancreas until it loses the ability to properly regulate blood glucose levels.

Fiber also helps in curbing sugar intake. It alerts your mind that you’ve consumed calories and you don’t need to eat anymore which fructose and processed foods devoid of fiber won’t do. We need fiber and fructose to work together. “Fructose makes up for fiber’s lack of sweetness while fiber makes up for fructose’s uselessness.”

astrolldownavenidacentral.JPG by puravida

The brain on sugar

Having memory problems? It is a total misnomer that the brain requires glucose as a fuel. It actually functions better burning other fuels such as ketones, substances that are made when the body breaks down fat for energy. Dr. Ron Rosedale suggests that Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders may be caused by the constant burning of glucose for fuel by the brain. In early 2005, Alzheimer’s was tentatively dubbed “type 3 diabetes” when researchers discovered that, as well as the pancreas, the brain also produces insulin, and this insulin is necessary for the survival of brain cells.

A study by Gomez-Pinilla, a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, found that rats’ memory deficits were triggered by an onset of insulin resistance caused by their prolonged high intake of fructose solution. This in turn damaged their synapses, the connections between brain cells that enable learning. This dysfunction was mitigated and memory improved when a second group of fructose rats were also given omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which protected against such damage. Rats that did not receive omega-3s and drank regular water instead of fructose also did better than the ones that were given only glucose as their drinking option.

I once did a three month sugar fast, which meant the removal of all sugars not coming from basic foods. This meant no added sugars, no fruits and sweet vegetables, no ingredients ending in ‘ose,’ no hidden sugars such as citric acid and basically removing 99% of all processed foods from my diet. This short regime changed my life, my mind and my body but it was one of the hardest things I have accomplished. I dare you to try it and tell me sugar is not addictive!


Gary Taubes. Is Sugar Toxic? 2011. Editor: Vera Titunik. The New York Times Magazine.

Ferris Jabr. Is Sugar Really Toxic? Sifting through the Evidence. 2013. Scientific American, Blogs.

Allie Beattyhttp. Why sugar is a 21st century drug. 2012. The diabetes resource.

M. Lewis and P.D. Howdle. The neurology of liver failure. 2003. Oxford Journals, Medicine and Health, QJM. Volume 96, Issue 9, Pp. 623-633.

Kris Gunnars. How Sugar Hijacks Your Brain And Makes You Addicted. Authority Nutrition.

Dain Wallis. Why Sugar Should Be Reclassified As a Drug. 2013. Huffpost Living Canada, the Blog.

Adam Dachis. What Sugar Actually Does to Your Brain and Body. 2011. Lifehacker.

Suzanne M. de la Monte, M.D., M.P.H. and Jack R. Wands, M.D. Alzheimer’s Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes. 2008. Journal of diabetes science and technology. 2(6): 1101–1113.

Gergana Koleva. Binging on Sugar Weakens Memory, UCLA Study Shows. 2012. Forbes Magazine.




What does October bring? For me it is always a time of looking forward, anticipation, of gratitude for what has passed. It is also the fall of the blossoming, growing and becoming and the moving into the seed, the dormant, the potential. Basically, winter is coming.

The environmental movement seems to also be moving into its fall and winter. We need to find the most probable ways to change and grow up in order to save our place on the planet, and soon. We need to stop looking outside of ourselves and start looking inward. Thích Nhất Hạnh’s book, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology provides us with a road map of how we can do this. It is only through a profound personal transformation that we will have the ability to address the present environmental crisis we all face. It is inside, where we find our spiritual practice, that the map leads us.

We are like sleepwalkers, not knowing what we are doing or where we are heading. Whether we can wake up or not depends on whether we can walk mindfully on our Mother Earth. [...] We need a kind of collective awakening. There are among us men and women who are awakened, but it’s not enough; the masses are still sleeping. They cannot hear the ringing of the bells. We have built a system we cannot control. This system imposes itself on us, and we have become its slaves and victims. Most of us, in order to have a house, a car, a refrigerator, a TV, and so on, must sacrifice our time and our lives in exchange. We are constantly under the pressure of time. In former times, we could afford three hours for one cup of tea, enjoying the company of our friends in a serene and spiritual atmosphere. We could organize a party to celebrate the blossoming of one orchid in our garden. But today we can no longer afford these things. We say that time is money. We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth. In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over some seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will be killed.

He points out that the American dream where everyone has to have a car of their own, a bank account, a cell phone, a television set, is not possible any longer, not even for the Americans who devised it. A sustainable economy was not created yet we all cling to this dream, depend on it, and believe it to be true. So how do we now become to see ourselves in another ‘reality?’

We have to have another dream: the dream of brotherhood and sisterhood, of loving-kindness and compassion and that dream is possible right here and now. We have the dharma; we have the means; we have enough wisdom to be able to live this dream. Mindfulness is at the heart of awakening, of enlightenment. We practice breathing to be able to be there in the present moment, so that we can recognize what is happening in us and around us.

The important thing is that we all act. The individual has to take action in their own life, we can’t wait any longer for the petitions, the politicians and the scientists to save the world. That is all looking outwards anyways. Violence, corruption, abuse of power, self-destruction, superstition and cruelty are just the outer reflection of what is happening within us when we are unaware and asleep. It is cultivating faith, determination, awakening and a big dream that can lead us to peace and hope. We have to learn to live with responsibility, compassion and loving kindness and to remember we each hold the power to decide the destiny of our planet. This means doing the inner work first, to awaken to our true situation, to initiate a collective change in our consciousness. To help people wake up to the fact that they are living in a dream. No one life is independent of all other life, each depends on the other in order to manifest and continue. We are outside each other at the same time as we are inside each other, in other words we are connected, whether we are comfortable with that or not yet, it is the truth.

Earth Holder is the energy that is holding us together as an organism. She is a kind of engineer or architect whose task is to create space for us to live in, to build bridges for us to cross from one side to the other, to construct roads so that we can to go to the people we love. Her task is to further communication between human beings and other species and to protect the Earth and the environment. [...] When you contemplate an orange, you see that everything in the orange participates in making up the orange. Not only the sections of the orange belong to the orange; the skin and the seeds of the orange are also parts of the orange. This is what we call the universal aspect of the orange. Everything in the orange is the orange, but the skin remains the skin, the seed remains the seed, the section of the orange remains the section of the orange. The same is true with our globe. Although we become a world community, the French continue to be French, the Japanese remain Japanese, the Buddhists remain Buddhists, and the Christians remain Christians. The skin of the orange continues to be the skin, and the sections in the orange continue to be the sections; the sections do not have to be transformed into the skin in order for there to be harmony.

Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests we follow the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Since they are non-sectarian and universal, they can be practiced regardless of religion, culture or ideology. They are one way to start the path of inner transformation and healing.

  • First Training: we vow to cherish all life on earth and not support any acts of killing.
  • Second Training: we pledge to practice generosity and not support social injustice and oppression.
  • Third Training: we make a commitment to behave responsibly in our relationships and not engage in sexual misconduct.
  • Fourth Training: we practice loving speech and deep listening in order to relieve others of suffering.
  • Fifth Mindfulness Training: Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body and my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and the transformation of society.

The last training holds the key to the way out of the environmental crisis we are in according to Hạnh, by recognizing what to consume and what to refuse in order to propagate health in our own body and for the Earth and to reduce suffering for ourselves and others. I do hope we find a way to make wine and cheese that is mindful. I don’t feel we have to become a Buddhist monk to become an aware cultivator of a healthy planet. Yet we do need to all become environmentalists and to see that we are one family, all children of this planet and that we need to take care of each other and the Earth.

Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh


Do you want to Quant it?

This new take on the electric car by the German company Quant runs on an electrolyte flow cell power system developed by NanoFlowcell. It can generate 920 horsepower, pop 0-62 mph in 2.8 seconds and whiz along the autobahn at 217.5 mph!

The flow cell battery is a beacon of hope because it is an especially simple and effective storage medium for electrical energy. Flow cells are chemical batteries that combine aspects of an electrochemical accumulator cell with those of a fuel cell. Liquid electrolytes circulate through two separate cells in which a “cold burning” takes place, during which oxidation and reduction processes happen in parallel and thereby produce electrical power for the drive train.

The flow cell battery offers up a greater range than lead-acid batteries or lithium-ion batteries found in current electric cars. The recharge can also be much faster. “All that is required to recharge them is to exchange spent electrolytes (which can be recharged outside the vehicle) for new, charged fluid.”

The car, which in the video looks like something only Batman is allowed to drive, debuted at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, is now approved for testing on public roads in Germany and Europe and will cost you $1.7 million to get on the delivery list. I am wondering how long it will be before a sustainable, electric car affordable to the masses will become available. A few dudes roaming the highways in tuxes is not enough to save the planet from the groan of fossil fuel usage by gas powered vehicles.

Everyone I talk to who just bought a new car decided going electric was still too expensive. The other sexy car maker, Tesla, also started out at the luxery level. Currently, their cheapest electrically powered car is the Model S which retails for around $70,000 and a proposed model for 2015-17 is estimated to cost $35,000. The Nissan Versa 1.6 S, a gas powered car, by contrast costs only $12,800. Infrastructure will still be an issue as well, for both salt water and electric fill ups. Anyone living in a city condo or apartment can’t go electric even if they could afford to since they can’t recharge their cars in the evenings if they have to park on the street. So for now, driving without polluting is only a rich person’s game and best left to the sexiest among us.

Happy October !

T. Dylan Moore illustration

There is a good kind of waiting which trust the agents of fermentation. There is a waiting which knows that in pulling away one can more wholly return. There is a waiting which prepares oneself, which anoints and adorns and makes oneself plump with readiness for love’s return. There is a good kind of waiting which doesn’t put oneself on hold but rather adds layer to the grandness of one’s being worthy. This sweet waiting for one’s fruits to ripen doesn’t stumble over itself to be the first to give but waits for the giving to issue at its own graceful pace.

2014 © Toko-pa Turner. Illustration by T. Dylan Moore.


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The Renaissance of Homeopathy

I would think that any art so young would have its ups and downs as it matured and developed. Some of the principles of homeopathy have been around for a very long time however and now that science has started to glimpse an understanding of the immaterial universe, so too can the mystery of homeopathy start to gain acceptance.

This article written by Judyann McNamara, posted on June 19, 2014, explores the current resurgence of homeopathy.

“Today, homeopathy is the most widely used form of alternative medicine in the world, supported by the World Health Organization (1), which claims that approximately 500 million people worldwide receive homeopathic treatment. In 2004, the WHO submitted “Homoeopathy: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials”, maintaining that the majority of peer-reviewed scientific papers published over the past 40 years have demonstrated that homeopathy is equivalent to conventional medicines in the treatment of illnesses, in both humans and animals. …”

Homeopathy is poised for new growth from a strong foundation

Homeopathy is poised for new growth from a strong foundation

Ever feel like you are alone, on a desert island to fend for yourself. It is never actually true if you count all lifeforms and not just human companionship. Your body is made up of around ten trillion cells, but you harbour a hundred trillion bacteria. For every gene in your genome, there are 100 bacterial ones. Therefore the total number of genes associated with these other creatures exceeds the total number of human genes by a factor of 100 to one.  We are mini ecosystems teaming with other organisms. “We are in essence only ten percent human – the rest is pure microbe,” claims Dr Sleator, a Cork Institute of Technology lecturer who has studied human microbial populations. 

Graph of human and microbiome


The human microbiome is the official name for the population of more than 100 trillion bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live in our gut, mouth, skin and elsewhere in our bodies. These microbial communities have numerous beneficial functions relevant to supporting life. They are needed to digest food, to prevent disease-causing bacteria from invading the body, and to synthesize essential nutrients and vitamins. What we do, in turn, affects them. Everything from the food we eat to the way we’re born influences the species of bacteria that take up residence in our bodies. With the advancement of genomic technologies, the capacity of this “second genome” to influence health can now be harnessed as a function of the whole community rather than as isolated bacterial species. Some scientists are even referring to a human and their inner community as one human-bacteria-super-organism.

Dr. Martin Blaser is the director of NYU’s Human Microbiome Program and their former chairman of medicine. He is an expert on the human microbiome and has written Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern PlaguesThere are many theories why food allergies, asthma, celiac disease and intestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease have been on the rise in the past couple of decades. Blaser speculates that it may be connected to the overuse of antibiotics as well as modern day birth practices that are killing the healthy strains of bacteria that typically live in the gut.


Martin J. Blaser, MD, in his lab at NYU Langone Medical Center with Xuesong Zhang, PhD. Photo by Carl Glenn

“Since World War II, we’ve seen big rises in a number of diseases: asthma, allergies, food allergies, wheat allergy, juvenile diabetes, obesity. … These are all diseases that have gone up dramatically in the last 50 or 70 years. One of the questions is: Why are they going up? Are they going up for 10 different reasons, or perhaps there is one reason that is fueling all of them.

My theory is that the one reason is the changing microbiome; that we evolved a certain stable situation with our microbiome and with the modern advances of modern life, including modern medical practices, we have been disrupting the microbiome. And there’s evidence for that, especially early in life, and it’s changing how our children develop.”

He suggests there is a choreography going on inside us during the first few years of life that is important for the rest of one’s lifespan. Nature’s great purpose is to evolve to maximize health and create new generations and it is pretty good at it. Modern medical and scientific practices have started to disrupt that great work. One of the main changes is the very process of birth. Inside the body a baby is sterile, protected from the world beyond it’s mother’s womb and what is transferred through the umbilical cord. When the membranes rupture and the water breaks, the baby has to journey from inside the mother’s body to the outside world. And that is the first exposure to the bacteria of the world, the microbes lining the mother’s vagina, the bacteria in the birth canal. As a baby is born those microbes are ingested and and absorbed.

Mammals have been able to transfer the microbiome to their offspring that way for 150 million years. Blaser believes that when children are born by cesarian section, this natural transfer does not happen. “You could project that if they didn’t acquire these organisms or they didn’t acquire them normally or at the normal time, then the foundations might be a little shaky.” More and more epidemiologic studies are trying to determine if there are long-term health consequences of C-section births. As well there is the increased use of antibiotics. It has long been known in the alternative health fields that taking probiotics after antibiotics can help restore the microbes that are lost during the course of medical intervention. According to Blaser there are many types of probiotics available and that although they are currently unregulated and untested, they are generally safe to take and that it is better to take them than not to. “Right now, it’s the Wild West. I’m actually a big believer in probiotics; I think that’s going to be part of the future of medicine, that we’re going to understand the science of the microbiome well enough so that we can look at a sample from a child and say this child is lacking such-and-such an organism and now we’re going to take it off the shelf and we’re going to give it back to that child. … Just as today the kids are lining up for the vaccines, in the future, maybe the kids are going to be drinking certain organisms so that we can replace the ones that they’ve lost.”

If we don’t develop this theory and integrate it into our medical practices, we could lose the microbes we need to function as healthy humans forever.


Based on the article by Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross.

Flexibility is power

I had this imagination a couple years ago, maybe three or four. It is obvious wind travels down streets lined with skyscrapers faster than it does elsewhere, so the best place to harness wind in an urban environment? On the side of buildings of course. And how to do it? By attaching millions of flexible rods along the sides of the skyscrapers that would bend in the wind the way cilia bend along our respiratory epithelium in the lungs. They could be about two feet long and collect their kinetic energy throughout the day to generate a building’s power needs. Being so far off the ground they would not interfere with traffic or pedestrians.

Belatchew Arkitekter did just this with their Strawscraper, an extenstion of the building Söder Torn on Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden. “With its new energy producing shell covered in straws the building can now recover wind energy and thus works as an urban powerplant.”

belatchew_arkitekter_strawscraper-1The straws of the facade consist of a composite material using piezoelectric technology that can turn motion into electrical energy. Piezoelectricity is created when the deformation of certain crystals is transformed into electricity. The large number of thin straws produce electricity through only small movements caused by the wind. Or on some days, a light breeze since they are so sensitive. Because it is a facade, it can be applied to new as well as old buildings. It is advantageous to other power generation methods since it is quiet, unlike current wind turbine technologies, and does not disturb or cause harm to birds and other wildlife. Check out their video and you can see how the building comes to life with the movement of the straws.

belatchew_arkitekter_strawscraper-4The energy revolution is in full swing and as consumers, we need to start demanding it. Green, renewable, sustainable and affordable, nothing can stop our dreams.




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