Step 5: Watch carbohydrate
consumption, especially
processed carbs.

Highly Addictive ... And It's Everywhere



From evolution's point of view, it hasn't been very long since humans've had sugar. We're designed to crave carbs; the brain in particular won't burn anything else for fuel. But we needed to graduate from hunting/gathering and start growing grains before we could really begin indulging our taste for them. We needed to perfect industrial machinery before we could make large quantities of refined carbs like sugar cheaply.

Throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sugar was thought to be more of a threat to the fabric of American society than cocaine. Both sugar and cocaine stimulate the dopamine addiction/reward circuit; sugar by triggering dopamine release and cocaine by enhancing neuronal receptivity to dopamine. So what can one do if one finds oneself in the grip of an addiction to sweets, pretzels, chips, cookies, muffins or croissants?

I'd suggest the first and most important thing is to realize that if a negative worldview clouds your existence it may be nothing more than your body's reaction to the empty calories you're putting into it. Of course if you're not feeling that way then you can ignore the following advice. It's typically people who've experienced a great deal of stress in life, particularly the vulnerably young years, that tend to crave carbs the most.

If you are addicted to carbs and feeling bleak, there's two things you can do. One is to go cold turkey. Stop eating all breads, all fruit, all grains, all sweets. You may well feel exhausted and emotionally distraught for the first few weeks. Kicking a carb addiction can be harder than stopping heroin in some respects.

But before too long something else will happen, something magical. The clouds will break, your energy will start to return, and you'll rediscover an optimism that you may only dimly remember.

Unfortunately you have to remain vigilant. Dopamine's effects are persistent; your brain remembers the pleasure it felt and just like a recovering addict you'll likely experience a constant or episodic struggle to maintain your processed-carb free status.

The Simple Way to Cure Sweet Cravings

Another, easier approach involves taking an amino acid, l-glutamine. L-glutamine enjoyed quite a vogue in the 1940s and 1950s as a cure for alcoholism; it also works quite well for almost all processed-carb addicts. Typically 3,000 mg/day, taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, will do the trick. One wants to take it on an empty stomach because amino acids compete with each other for uptake and assimilation and so taking the l-glutamine with food will keep it from working. After twenty minutes it's ok to go ahead and eat; that's all the time it needs.

It usually takes from 2-8 weeks for the effect to appear. It's not quite clear just why this works. L-glutamine is converted by the body into an neuronally excitatory amino acid, glutamic acid, and a sedating neurotransmitter, gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA). Perhaps the combination of the two mimics to a certain extent sugar's dual exciting and calming effects on the brain. In any event, work it does.

Almost always. I have encountered a few patients over the years (I'd estimate less than 1%) who have negative reactions to this approach. If one feels any increase of pain or headaches one should stop the l-glutamine and take the first, more difficult approach. But when l-glutamine works, which is almost always, the effect is so powerful yet subtle at first that some people miss it - the craving for sweets or other processed carbs just ... disappears.

L-glutamine should not be taken at these dosages indefinitely. If one happen to be one of the few people who don't respond after eight weeks, stop taking it. L-glutamine isn't carcinogenic, but brain tumors do love it and if any small brain tumors have formed they'll grow rapidly. And glutamic acid (which can be made in the brain from l-glutamine) is an excitatory neurotransmitter; too much can be harmful.

But then again, so can too many refined carbohydrates.

Dopamine, our brains and the human condition being what it is, it's often the case that someone who successfully kicks the carb habit in whatever way works for them often finds themselves back in its grip again a few months or years down the road. Not infrequently this happens in the fall or winter, when the absence of light triggers endocrine changes that can result in depression. If this occurs, it typically takes much less l-glutamine to stop the carb cravings a second time than it did the first. A typical dose would be 1,000-1,500 mg/day, again first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (no solid food for twenty minutes), for a week or two. Stop the l-glutamine as soon as the carb cravings stop.

Of course, all the usual demurrers apply here. I can't diagnose or prescribe for you without examining you and counseling you personally. If you've got a medical or psychological condition you need to see a doctor or a professional psychotherapist. None of the information in this course should be interpreted as diagnostic or prescriptive ... it's intended to be solely educational.