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Show 1216: How Sugar Interferes With Healthy Decisions

When we need to make healthy decisions about what we eat and drink, we need to find ways to deflect the allure of sugar for our brains.
Show 1216: How Sugar Interferes With Healthy Decisions
Drs. Austin (left) and David (right) Perlmutter, authors of Brain Wash
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How Sugar Interferes With Healthy Decisions

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The telomeres that cap our chromosomes are a good way to gauge biological aging. Dr. Elissa Epel, who studies aging and metabolism at UCSF, has found a link between soda consumption and cellular aging, even in young children (Childhood Obesity, April 2018). She and her colleagues took advantage of a natural experiment at the University of California, San Francisco, to see if making sugary beverages less accessible made a difference for people’s health.

Quite a few of the people who had been accustomed to consuming at least one sugary beverage daily had prediabetes. When the vending machines in their workplace no longer offered soda, many of them experienced lower insulin resistance, an indicator of better metabolic health. Drinking less (or no) soda would benefit our health. Many people have trouble overcoming a soft drink habit, though, since sugar can interfere with healthy decisions in subtle ways.

How We Make Decisions:

Neurologist David Perlmutter and his son, Austin Perlmutter, MD, have teamed up to write Brain Wash: Detox Your Mind for Clearer Thinking, Deeper Relationships, and Lasting Happiness. They describe the three layers of the brain and the importance of the prefrontal cortex for decision making. But can we make healthy decisions when sugar is appealing to an older, deeper brain layer we may not even be aware of?

In addition, advertisers of products for children may take advantage of the lure of sweets. Are they brainwashing American kids? What could we do about that?

Bringing Your Brain Back into Balance:

Phineas Gage was a 19th century railroad foreman who survived a dramatic accident after an iron rod went through his skull. This story illustrates the importance of the prefrontal cortex. His was destroyed in the accident, and shortly after that, he acted quite differently. Reportedly, his friends hardly recognized him as the same man. However, later in life he partially regained his previous skills and temperament. That demonstrates our brains’ plasticity.

How can we use that adaptability to overcome the siren song of sugar in the supermarket? In summary, the doctors Perlmutter offer us some simple steps to help us make healthy decisions. And, finally, they offer us a peek into their own grocery carts.

We did not discuss any connection with COVID-19 with the Perlmutters or Dr. Epel. However, you may be interested in Dr. Roger Seheult’s recent episode of MedCram.com (#83) in which he connects the hypothetical dots between a high fructose intake and greater susceptibility to a severe infection. 

This Week’s Guests:

Elissa Epel, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, at University of California, San Francisco. Her research aims to elucidate mechanisms of healthy aging, and to apply this basic science to scalable interventions that can reach vulnerable populations. She is the Director of the Aging, Metabolism, and Emotions Center, and the current President of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research. Her research on a workplace sales ban on sugar-sweetened beverages was published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Oct. 28, 2019.

David Perlmutter, MD, is a Board-Certified Neurologist and five-time New York Times bestselling author. He serves on the Board of Directors and is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. Dr. Perlmutter is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Linus Pauling Award for his innovative approaches to neurological disorders; the National Nutritional Foods Association Clinician of the Year Award; the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the American College of Nutrition; and most recently the 2019 Global Leadership Award from the Integrative Healthcare Symposium. Dr. Perlmutter is the author of several books, including Grain Brain, Brain Maker, and his most recent book, Brain Wash. His website is https://www.drperlmutter.com/

Austin Perlmutter, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician and New York Times bestselling author. His focus is in helping others to improve decision-making and quality of life. He is also interested in methods of understanding and reducing burnout in the medical field. Dr. Perlmutter is the co-author, with his father, of Brain Wash. He writes for Psychology Today on his blog, The Modern Brain.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, June 8, 2020, after broadcast on June 6. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Wojcicki JM et al, "Increased cellular aging by 3 years of age in Latino, preschool children who consume more sugar-sweetened beverages: A pilot study." Childhood Obesity, April 2018. DOI: 10.1089/chi.2017.0159
  • Epel ES et al, "Association of a workplace sales ban on sugar-sweetened beverages with employee consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and health." JAMA Internal Medicine, Oct. 28, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.4434
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