A Sugar Story: How Addiction to Sweets Made Me a Healer

A Sugar Story: How Addiction to Sweets Made Me a Healer

By Duane Law

Sugar Story IllusMy path to a healing career began more than 35 years ago in the back of a Datsun station wagon. I’d driven deep into a northern California forest armed with a vacuum cleaner hose, duct tape, a cardboard box, a knife and a bottle of tequila.

Financial hardship had forced me out of college and into the back of the station wagon. Like a lot of students, I’d been living on a diet made up largely of cheap, processed carbohydrates. Bread, donuts, ice cream, chips. When I wasn’t pissed off, I was deeply depressed. I was unable to speak in all but the most routine interactions. I was losing it.

Unbeknown to me, my brain was swimming in cortisol. It would be years before I finally nailed down the neurochemistry involved; the concept of hypoglycemia was under attack by medical researchers who couldn’t actually find low levels of blood sugar in the people ostensibly suffering from it. They were looking in the wrong place. They should have been looking for elevated stress hormones; the body secretes them to keep blood sugar elevated enough to keep us from passing out. That’s why we shake and get irritable when we’re hungry.

I was on shaky ground. My soul was in a death spiral.

But the reasons why were still obscure to me at the time. Fortunately, that bottle of tequila saved me. When one is hypoglycemic, booze is a great short-term mood-lifting strategy (but only in the short run). Instead of gassing myself, I went into a deep sleep. When I woke up in the morning, the sun was shining. I decided maybe life was worth another shot after all. I moved back to Los Angeles and crashed on my parents’ couch for awhile.

Months later, an interesting set of synchronicities led me to Harvey Ross, M.D., an early orthomolecular psychiatrist. Orthomolecular medicine uses substances found naturally in the body—vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and food awareness—to treat symptoms and heal disease.

Under Dr. Ross’ guidance, I stopped consuming all processed carbs, including sugar. After a few more hellish weeks, I began climbing out of a deep pit of blackness that I’d been living in since early childhood. I felt better than I’d ever felt before. These days, when kids with shotguns lose it in their high schools, I get it. It’s appalling of course, but I just thank my lucky stars I found Harvey Ross before I found Smith & Wesson.

I was amazed that something so ubiquitous, so generally accepted, so seemingly innocuous as sugar (and its close counterparts, bread and chips) could have been having such a powerfully negative influence on my moods. I began wondering what else along those lines had been hidden from me. I became one of the earliest acupuncturists licensed in the United States. The more I looked, the more I learned.

It turns out that modern industrialized food creates huge imbalances in our nutrient intakes. Everyone knows highly processed food is drained of nutrients essential to our brains and bodies. Not everyone realizes that much of it is also highly pro-inflammatory. Unless one takes the right steps, our diets can leave us miserable, hobble us with chronic pain, “rust” our brains and bodies and make us old before our time.

The brain is 2% of the body’s weight, but uses 20% of the body’s energy. It’s our nutritional “canary in a coal mine.” Issues with diet and nutrition tend to show up in behavior, cognition and mood first.

These issues sit perennially on the fringes of big science. Corporate interests dominate most medical research today. Valiant researchers who have pursued these ideas have sometimes found it the death knell of their careers. As Mark Twain famously put it, “It can be darned difficult to get someone to understand something when their livelihood depends on their not understanding it.”

Understanding what junk food does to us is particularly crucial here in Fresno. While cutting-edge scientists like the University of California–San Francisco’s Robert Lustig are raising the alarm, it will be years before this awareness bleeds into the medical community at large. New work shows that indulging a sweet tooth can contribute to metabolic syndrome, the epidemic of diabetes, heart disease and obesity sweeping our community today.

Addressing these issues doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Eating healthy can actually be less expensive than eating highly processed food. But having the facts is crucial.

Junk food also affects our politics. Ever notice what the angriest, loudest, meanest voices in our national dialogue eat when they sit down with the big boys? If we want to have the strength, the courage, the patience and the wisdom to go up against the vested economic interests in our society and win, we can’t take the same nutritional road they take.

My own journey down the road less taken began with wising up about what sugar was doing to my brain.

Fortunately, there’s a simple nutritional approach that effectively stops sweet cravings. No, it’s not chromium. I’ll be sharing that tidbit and the research behind these ideas, as well as a lot of other useful nutritional tools we can all use to create better, more effective lives in Fresno on Aug. 3 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Ramada Inn (324 E. Shaw Ave.).

Come and learn how we can all use the powerful natural pharmacy you’ll find in any good health food store. If we know what we’re doing, these tools can change and save lives.

As they did many years ago for me.

Being healthy isn’t about being a saint. It’s about being informed.


Duane Law, L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and naturopath, dedicated to teaching clients how to heal themselves. Contact him at duane@naturalstresscare.org.


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    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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