If you are considering cutting sugar from your diet, or maybe you are already doing so. You have probably heard about some possible side effects that can occur when kicking sugar, like the dreaded sugar withdrawal.
When reducing the consumption of sweets, some people may initially experience negative effects – one of which is the potential „sugar detox“ headache. Why does this happen? This is probably because cutting out sugar puts a strain on your brain. Let’s take a closer look.
Effects of Sugar on the Brain
When you eat sugar, your brain releases dopamine, the „feel-good“ chemical in the brain. Your body associates it with a reward. „Logically, you might know that sugar is bad and can lead to side effects,“ says Michele Promaulayko, author of Sugar Free 3. „But your reward center drives you to just keep on eating.“
When you reduce added sugar or eliminate it from your diet, your body has to adjust to not regularly getting dopamine from that particular source. Meanwhile, the acetylcholine levels rise – a neurotransmitter that fires up neurons. This can lead to strain on the nervous system, causing body pains and sugar withdrawal symptoms.
These symptoms may include:
Why You Get Headaches During Sugar Withdrawal
Headaches are perhaps the most common symptom people report when cutting out sugar or caffeine. Researchers are not entirely sure why headaches occur as a withdrawal symptom from sugar, but they suspect that this could at least partly be due to the brain’s stress system.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers fed two groups of mice different diets on specific days – one with constantly low sugar content and one with high sugar content (chocolate-flavored).
They found that the mice receiving the cyclic, sugar-rich diet with chocolate flavor exhibited some withdrawal-like responses when they had no access to the sweet stuff. Their level of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) – a hormone in the part of the brain that controls anxiety, restlessness, and stress reactions – was elevated.
It was five times higher than in the control group and only stabilized when the mice were fed sugar-rich, chocolate-flavored food.
How Long Does Sugar Withdrawal Last?
Don’t let this deter you from reducing or eliminating added sugar from your diet. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can kick your sugar habit in just 10 days. And if you are like most of us, you are probably consuming way too much anyway.
The average American consumes 17 teaspoons (about 71g) of sugar daily, meaning they intake 270 calories from added sugar every day.
This is well above the American Heart Association’s recommendation that men should not consume more than 9 teaspoons (36g) and women should not consume more than 6 teaspoons (24g) per day.
It’s not entirely our fault. Food manufacturers sneak added sugar into products we never expected, including bread, tomato sauce, salad dressings, and some low-fat foods. (When fat is removed, it needs to be replaced, and that’s usually with sugar.)
Limiting the intake of added sugar – along with maintaining a healthy weight and a healthier lifestyle – can have several positive effects, including maintaining a more stable energy level.
So, don’t let the possibility of temporary headaches deter you from making changes that can improve your overall health for a lifetime.