If you have ever experienced an intense and unstoppable craving for a food, then you have experienced the workings of the genetics of addiction. The three most commonly craved types of foods are sweet foods, salty foods, and fatty foods. Research has shown that people who have very strong food cravings and have trouble sticking with a diet often exhibit many of the same symptoms of people that suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Some of the diagnostic criteria for substance addiction include persistent desire, repeated unsuccessful attempts to “quit”, continued use despite knowledge of adverse effects, and withdrawal symptoms when the substance is not ingested. Now, think about people that have trouble with food cravings. The cravings persist until the craved food is eaten. These people often try diet after diet and are unable to lose weight and keep it off. People that are addicted to certain foods are not stupid, they are often well aware of the negative consequences of eating that food but they do it anyways. Some people even go through withdrawal symptoms when an addictive food is removed from their diet.
One of the genetic mechanisms at work behind addiction is the dopamine receptors in our brains. Sometimes referred to as the “reward centers”, dopamine receptors must be activated by something in order for us to feel pleasure. The dopamine receptors of some people require more of that “something” to be activated than the dopamine receptors of other people. For some people, that “something” is sugar and so those who need more of it to activate their dopamine receptors eat a lot of it. We all know what happens when we eat too much sugar on a regular basis, and it is not pretty. Fortunately, though, there are some things that we can do to break free from sugar and other food cravings. Things like balancing your blood sugar, getting enough sleep, and taking in adequate vitamins and other nutrition can help you to overcome your genetically based tendency to overindulge on sugar.
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