Fight Back Against Sugar Addiction with Low or No Carb Diet

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


Profile of abstract human head with starburst in the mind, indicating mental effects of a no carb diet

Recent studies indicate that there is a connection between behavior, sugar and fat on cognitive function. Issues arising from this area could be due to alteration of the microbiome and diets such as a low or no carb diet. The microbiome is a complicated mixture that exists in the digestive tract, consisting of around 100 trillion microorganisms.

A recent study about the relationship between brain and stomach was conducted by Kathy Magnusson and her colleagues from Oregon State University, USA. Their research involved mice in a laboratory setting, which were fed different diets and underwent a variety of tests, including monitoring changes and water maze testing, which was conducted five to six weeks after diet change.

The high-sugar and high-fat diets inflicted changes on the gut bacteria. These changes evidently affected a loss in the area of “cognitive flexibility” compared to a normal diet which didn’t initiate such changes. Cognitive flexibility includes the ability to adjust and adapt to fluctuating and changing circumstances. The high-sugar diet seemed to have a more severe impact than the high-fat diet. The mice that ate a lot of sugar experienced impaired early learning in the areas of both long and short-term memory. The conclusion of the study was that changes in the microbiome could lead to negative cognitive changes.

The high-sucrose diet, as compared to the high-fat diet, seemed to change more gut bacterial orders as well as genera. It also led to impaired cognitive flexibly as well as impaired spatial memory. The increase in Clostridiales in the digestive system was linked to the decrease of cognitive ability. On the other hand, a decrease in Bacteroidales in the digestive system was also linked with the decrease of cognitive ability.

Woman eating a larger burger, most definitely not part of a no carb dietWhat does that mean for the people of the world? Western diets, specifically, are high in fat as well as sucrose. As suggested in the study, this can have an influence on gut microbiota and subsequently on behavior. As time goes on, the evidence seems to accumulate regarding the connection between brain, behavior, and microbiome. The purpose of the study was to collect information about food-related changes which affect the gut microbiota and could in turn affect cognitive flexibility, memory, and/or anxiety. This could have an influence on dietary coaching nutritional coaching.

Study Details

The mice in the study were randomly given one of three separate diets: a high-fat diet which consisted mostly of fat and carbohydrates; a high-sucrose diet which consisted mostly of CHO (sucrose); and a normal diet. Before the diets were changed and for two weeks afterwards, step-down latency, fecal microbiome analysis and novel location and object tasks were done. In both the high-sucrose and high-fat diets, increased Clostridiales levels were seen, but in the high-sucrose diet there was a greater decrease in Bacteroidales. Lactobacillales notably increased in the case of the high-sucrose diet. Erysipelotrichales, on the other hand, notably increased with the high-fat diet. Compared to a normal diet, mice on the high-sucrose diet showed major impairment in the areas of spatial bias, reversal training, early development, and long and short-term memory.

Woman putting ketchup on food, likely addicted to sugar and would benefit from a no carb diet

Low or No Carb Diet?

The brain needs some fat and sugar for healthy functioning, but the right kinds and in the right amounts, so limiting sugar intake is more advisable than a no carb diet. Unfortunately, studies show that fat and sugar are as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Eating fat or sugar triggers a release of dopamine in the brain, leading to a desire for more. While we know that excess fat and sugar cause neurochemical changes in the brain that increase cravings for fat and sugar, it is unclear just how this vicious cycle begins. Scientists are still trying to determine whether or not some people are born with neurochemical irregularities that make them more sensitive to the effects of fat and sugar.

Unlike with drugs or alcohol, quitting food isn’t exactly an option, and dieting as it’s commonly thought of has been scientifically shown to not be an effective strategy for addressing the addiction. In one study, rats were fed a diet of fat and sugar for 40 days. At the end of this time, the high-fat and high-sugar fare was removed from their diet, the rats had no interest in their standard diet, refusing to eat anything at all for an average of about two weeks. This could be a serious problem if people demonstrate the same response.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Profile of abstract human head with starburst in the mind, indicating mental effects of a no carb diet




1 Comment

  • Phyllis Poole says:

    When I was pregnant with my 3rd child, a son, I had more nausea than with the first two. The doctor told me to suck on hard candy!!! to relieve that problem. He was the only of my children to have a learning disability. I feel all obstetricians should be aware of this problem and all women of child bearing age.