In a recent report we focussed on the effects of blood sugar spikes on the human body (and especially the brain). I likened this to a rollercoaster that goes up and down at frightening speeds. The effects of this rollercoaster can be devastating when it comes to attention and other aspects of brain function. This is because the brain is by far the largest consumer of energy in the human body. Any fluctuation in available energy is therefore very likely to have a disproportionate effect on the brain. This fact should send the warning lights flashing for people who battle the effects of ADD/ADHD as they are perhaps least able to afford any hint of sub-optimal brain performance.
A central plank of my advice on getting off the blood sugar rollercoaster is the avoidance of high-sugar and high-fat foods. Now it turns out that this advice is not only sensible when it comes to the short term avoidance of blood sugar spikes and the long term avoidance of weight gain. It seems that consumption of junk food could also be harmful in the medium term.
A recent research project at the Southwestern Medical Center of the University of Texas tested the response of lab rats to different kinds of fat. Dr. Deborah Clegg (the lead researcher) reported that palmitic acid (commonly found in butter, cheese, milk and beef) had the effect of â€˜convincingâ€™ the brain that the body needs more food, thus effectively suppressing signals that sent the message that the bodiesâ€™ needs have been met! It does this through causing the brain to ignore the hormonal signals sent out by leptin and insulin (the usual appetite suppressants).
Dr. Clegg summarises her findings as follows: “What we’ve shown in this study is that someone’s entire brain chemistry can change in a very short period of time. Our findings suggest that when you eat something high in fat, your brain gets ‘hit’ with the fatty acids, and you become resistant to insulin and leptin. Since you’re not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat.”
The most astonishing fact about Dr. Cleggâ€™s research is that the results show that the effect of palmitic acid in raising appetite can last for up to three days. This means that the hamburgers, fries and milkshake that you had on Friday could still be making you hungry by Monday!
These findings suggest that the so called blood sugar rollercoaster might be even more powerful (and a great deal more complicated) than first thought. One way to describe it could perhaps be as a moving â€˜Hotel Californiaâ€™: Easy to get on to, rather more difficult to stop! This is because the time delayed effect of the palmitic acid will â€˜motivateâ€™ you to eat some more fatty food three days down the road, making you hungry for another three days, until you are trapped in a vicious circle of overeating and blood sugar spikes.
I have already made some suggestions on ways in which the blood sugar rollercoaster can be escaped. The research profiled above means that we will perhaps have to add the following to them:
- Be aware of the dangers: Many of us have been exasperated by the way in which we sometimes lapse into unexplainable eating binges. This research suggests that the phenomenon is perhaps not so unexplainable after all! It seems that a binge can easily be set off by just a single high fat meal.
- Be aware of the kind of fat/oil that you eat: An interesting aspect of the research results is that not all oils have this â€˜time bombâ€™ effect. Palmitic acid is found in common types of saturated fat but do not occur at the same levels in oleic fats (e.g. olive oil). It may be worth your while to monitor sources of saturated fats in your diet with a view to radically reduce your intake.
- Break the circle: The best response to a vicious circle is to do your best to break it as quickly as possible. You should therefore carefully monitor your food intake to determine if you are not being taken on an â€˜extended roller coaster rideâ€™. If you are, it may be time to take some radical action to get off!
Designing nutrition for optimum brain function is one of the most effective ways of combating ADD/ADHD and is integral to the approach that we follow here at â€˜3 Steps ADDâ€™. One of the best ways to do this is to make sure that you do not get onto roller coasters (either for short or long rides!). Following the â€˜3 Stepsâ€™ can be a powerful tool for helping you to stay off!