Pain and Sugar addiction

Posted by Melissa Callaghan on


Pain and Sugar addiction

Did you know we have a system that connects our pain tolerance to the gut and sugar addiction?

It is known as the endogenous opioid system.

Endogenous means from internal origin and opioids act on the nervous system often used to relieve pain.

Common pharmaceutical opioids include morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. The illegal drug, heroin is also an opioid.

Our internal opioid system not only controls our pain but also makes us feel good and controls our natural reward feelings and addictive behaviours.

We have opioid receptors in our brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract which are activated by peptides. One of the peptides most of you who work out would be familiar with are endorphins. This is why working out gives you pleasure and helps relieve pain, and it can become addictive. 

The endorphins activate the opioid receptors to decrease the pain sensation as well as increase your tolerance of pain. These are similar results to opioid drugs like morphine which also activate our opioid receptors but endorphins activate without all of the side effects such as mood swings, fatigue, brain fog, and of course addiction.

The fact that opioid receptors are located in the gastrointestinal tract gives us an indication that there is a connection between gut function and the opioid receptors. Often one of the biggest side effects from taking pain medication is constipation and they can also cause bloating, nausea, and ironically pain.

The brain opioid receptors play an important role in motivation, emotions, attachment behaviour, how much food we eat, and how we respond to stress and pain. 

How is this all connected to sugar?

We all know that eating sweets like chocolate and cakes make us feel good. They are also addictive. Bingeing on sugary foods can cause dependency because they activate the opioid receptors and stimulate the cells that release dopamine. This is our happiness neurotransmitter, it also triggers our natural reward feelings creating a behavioural pattern that you want to repeat again and again because it makes you feel good. Here comes addiction to chocolate, bread, carbs. 

Research has shown that withdrawing from eating sugary foods has similar reactions to withdrawing from opioid medications. You can become dependent on both and when you stop them even just for 24 hours you can show physical signs of withdrawals. When you are continuously craving something sweet it could be withdrawals. 

The endogenous opioid system is a complicated one, with the current standard Australian diet being high in inflammatory foods and sugar, this can lead to chronic inflammation, along with this comes opioid tolerance, this is usually seen when pain medication dosage needs to be continually increased as it is not as effective as it used to be.

Chronic inflammation can lead to conditions such as:

• Heart disease
• Diabetes
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Kidney disease
• Chronic lower respiratory disease
• Cancer

How do you know that something needs to change? Here are a few examples but there are a lot more

• Constant cravings for carbs eg bread, sweets such as chocolate or lollies.
• Lacking motivation
• Low pain tolerance
• Difficulty coping with stress
• Feeling nauseous frequently
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Anxiety 
• Depression
We are very fortunate to have amazing herbal medicine that works on pain and reducing inflammation providing huge relief for patients.

Who am I?

I am a Bachelor qualified Naturopath who specialises in improving metabolic processes in the body. Major areas for improvement include gut, thyroid, kidney, skin and liver health. Conditions such as hypothyroidism, fatty liver, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, & irritable bowel conditions. I help my patients by giving them symptomatic relief while working on repairing the underlying causes of metabolic stress and waste accumulation. Patients experience amazing results which are seen in their blood tests with improved thyroid markers, cholesterol, and liver markers.  As well as lower blood pressure and see relief from improved gastrointestinal symptoms like the ones that mean you need to know where every single toilet is before you leave the house.

Melissa Callaghan ND, BHSc, BTeach
Clinical Naturopath


To book an appointment click here 


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Also read Pain and Depression Connection




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