Science has a lot to learn about sugar sensitivity. We can't just go to PubMed, put 'sugar sensitivity' in the search field and find hundreds or thousands of citations telling us all about our unique bodies and behaviors. But the story is there in the science writings, encoded in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. If we listen and watch our own stories, we can go back to the literature and better understand the
whys of what we are living.
The Power of the Beta Endorphin Story
I continue to be intrigued by beta-endorphin and it's relationship to the story of sugar sensitivity. I began my relationship with beta-endorphin when
I learned two intriguing themes. The first came from the work of Dr. Christine Gianoulakis at McGill University. She noticed that two different strains of mice responded to the effects of alcohol in very different ways. The C57GL/6 mice had a far more potent reaction than their "dry" brothers and sisters, the DBA/2 mice. Because of this intensity of the response, they really go for the booze. C57s are called alcohol-preferring mice and DBAs are called alcohol-avoiding mice.
As an aside, many other studies have shown that not only do the C57s have a high preference for alcohol, they also love sweet things. In fact, some scientists are working with the concept that a preference for sweet may be an indicator of a risk for alcoholism.
Dr. Gianoulakis and her colleagues have worked with these mice for a long
time. They discovered that the C57's and the DBA have very different levels of beta-endorphin. The C57's are born with much lower levels of beta endorphin in their brains, so their brains increase the number of receptor sites to try to catch more of the beta endorphin molecules. This is called upregulation. Because they have more places to catch the beta-endorphin, they get a bigger response to things that evoke beta-endorphin.
At Risk For Alcoholism
Dr. Gianoulakis extended her study to people and examined a whole group of people who are known to be genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction, the children and grandchildren of alcoholics. Children and grandchildren of alcoholics seem to be the human
equivalent of the C57 mice. They, like the mice, have lowered levels of beta-endorphin and a heightened response to things that evoke beta-endorphin like alcohol and sugars.
As Dr. Gianoulakis was publishing her work, a number of other scientists were noticing that that sucrose quieted pain. They discovered that not only does sucrose quiet physical pain, but also it quiets the pain of loss or social isolation.
When a group of baby chicks were taken from their mama, they peeped and peeped. When they were given sugar water, they stopped crying for mama chicken.
Sugar as a Drug
Dr. Elliott Blass, then at Cornell, wanted to
understand how this happens. How could sugar act like a drug? He did some experiments and showed that sucrose cut physical and emotional pain by evoking the brain's own beta-endorphin. Beta-endorphin is the body's natural painkiller. It is called an endogenous opioid or internal painkiller. Morphine and heroine are opiate drug, which mean they go and sit in the brain's beta-endorphin receptor sides and get the brain to block pain signals. Sucrose acts like an opioid drug such as morphine or
heroin. Not as intensely, but on the same beta-endorphin system.
And, if we return to our friends the C57 and the DBA mice, we discover that the C57s have a 35 times more powerful reaction to morphine than do the DBAs. Think of that. Insert sugar in the place of morphine, and we begin to see why some body and brain types seek it, love it and get addicted to it. Now the sugar story and the connection to C57's
is well researched through out the scientific literature. But no one in the science lab is yet making this leap from the C57 profile to the sugar sensitivity profile in people. But the "match" is extraordinary.
How We Are Like Those C57 Mice
If we start thinking of ourselves as little C57 mice, we can have LOTS of clues about why we act the way we do. And we can start understanding why our DBA friends cannot in any way understand why we keeping going back when hey are able to just say no.
As we continue this discussion, let's stop for a moment and take one cautionary note about our attitudes towards the
different types of mice (or people). Scientists do not look down upon the little C57s. Nor do they laud the DBA. They simply know that they are two very distinct strains with different body chemistries. If they wish to look at the effect of a given intervention and want to see the differences in different body types, they order both kinds of mice.
Getting Rid of the Negative Spin
So, we can work on taking the negative judgment and shame off of the C57 way of life. Our first step is understanding. As we get how this works, we can start making choices for healing. And then TURN US LOOSE!
Let me list some of the C57
"facts" I have found with my own research. I can then reflect with you on what it might mean for our healing.
1 All C57's regardless of their gender like sweet stuff more than DBAs. A C57 male will prefer sweets more than a DBA female will.
2 In a situation called defeat-induced learned submission, the DBAs looked for an escape, while
the C57's crouched, became immobile and defensive. Defeat-induced learned submission comes from a release of beta-endorphin
3 The defeated mice developed tolerance to the beta-endorphin released in response to defeat.
4 C57's get hyperactive with morphine. DBAs do not.
5 Caffeine antagonized the hyperactivity in C57's caused by morphine, i.e. when the C57's were given caffeine
and then morphine they did not become hyperactive.
6 When withdrawing from morphine, C57's become lethargic and passive.
Next week we will Apply the Science to Ourselves