I was cocky, I totally thought I knew lots of things about this stuff, but within minutes I realised that what I knew could fit on a postage stamp.
For one thing I thought there would be much more of an overlap between sugar and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. I found that there we’re 11 symptoms for sugar and 12 symptoms for alcohol and only 3 that we’re on both lists.
Fast heart rate
Raised Body Temperature
Elevated blood pressure
Delirium Tremen (which in some cases can be fatal)
Changes in sleep patterns
Difficulty in Concentrating
Not only are almost all of them different but none of them are an absolute certainty to experience. Each of them is their own little soldier of misery, that could either be annoying on their own, or be really annoying with other soldiers to form an army of misery. And it’s different for everyone, there are dozens and dozens of possible combinations on just one list let alone across two. Not to mention one of the symptoms could be fatal.
My head was swimming, I needed a break and Flash needed a walk. It would normally take me at least 45 minutes to an hour to fight back my anxiety enough to leave the house. Once I got my shoes on, I then check that the oven is turned off, the fridge is turned on. Then I get out of the house with Flash, then I go back into the house to double check that the oven and fridge are still off and on. And once I had finally satisfied that beast, the same thing was repeated with the front door, obsessively checking I’d locked it, getting up the steps and to the street, back down to check, sometimes halfway down the street and back I go. Flash didn’t mind. For one thing he’s a dog 😊
I was 20 minutes into the walk when I realised that I just decided to go, got up put on my trainers and we left. I didn’t check the oven, fridge or the front door. I had obviously been so distracted with research I had forgotten to be anxious and obsessive. It felt wonderful.
When I got back, I contacted my GP, (which I strongly advise anyone to do before embarking on either a sugar or booze detox, or both). I wanted to know what to expect, largely so that if I experienced anything outside this, I knew it was something I ought to seek help for.
I read a lot of articles on the subject and basically learnt that alcohol is a depressant, it can disrupt the balance of our brains, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. This is down to ‘neurotransmitters’, chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve in the brain to another. That’s why you end up feeling relaxed, or more confident and feel less anxious. This is because it depresses part of the brain associated with inhibitions. The more you drink the more your brain is affected, which can lead to negative emotions as well as positive.
Alcohol can increase anxiety and stress rather than reduce it – massive eye opener for me. I had always used alcohol as self medication for my anxiety and depression and here I was reading it was making it worse. WTAF!!!
I also read that it can lower the immune and respiratory system and leave people more susceptible to colds, flu, chest infections and in some cases pneumonia.
I was floored by this, more than the anxiety thing. I had been hospitalised in November 2013 with pneumonia. The doctors had been stumped. None of them could work out how a healthy 30 something training for her third marathon could wind up nearly dying from pneumonia. I got asked dozens of times if I had been abroad or encountered any exotic birds (genuinely asked me this more than once), they asked if I smoked, none of them asked if I was a drinker. It had halted my running, I had to forfeit my 2014 place, which not only would have been my 3rd marathon but three in a row. I had run the first in 6h32m, the second in 5h6m and I hoped to shave another hour off that time and run it inside 4.
Was it actually the booze? Was all of it because of the bottle? I stopped myself from going down that path, not because I couldn’t face the truth of it, because actually for the first time I could. But now was not the time, I had more research to do.
Long term effects of drinking:
Diminished grey matter and white matter in the brain
Loss of attention span
Cancer – throat, mouth, larynx, breast, liver or esophageal
High blood pressure
I read up on sugar, and to be clear we are always talking about refined sugar. Not sugars that naturally occur in fruit and vegetables. This is what I learnt; Sugars activate the brains reward system – sweet foods are highly desirable due to the powerful impact sugar has on our reward system in the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine system. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released by neurons in this system in response to a rewarding event. Cocaine, amphetamines and nicotine hijack this brain system as well.
This chemical circuit is activated by natural rewards and behaviours that are essential to continuing the species, such as eating tasty, high energy foods, having sex and interacting socially. Activating this system makes you want to carry out the behaviour again and again as it feels good.
Dopamine has an important role in the brain, directing our attention towards things in the environment like tasty food, this means our attention can be drawn to cakes and chocolate when we’re not necessarily hungry, evoking cravings.
If you eat a lot of sugar you are repeatedly activating the dopamine reward system, it causes your brain to adapt to the frequent reward system stimulation. If we continue to eat more sugary foods on a regular basis your system starts to change to prevent it becoming overstimulated, so dopamine receptors start to down-regulate. Fewer receptors means the effect is blunted, more sugar is needed to achieve the same reward feeling.
Glucose travels through the bloodstream to our tissue, and every cell in the body readily burns it for energy. In contrast, fructose is almost exclusively taken up and metabolised by the liver. Excess glucose and fructose are both converted to fat and stored.
Long term effects of too much refined sugar:
Increased risk of heart disease
Can cause poor complexion, spots and redness to the skin
Increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes
May increase your risk of cancer
May increase your risk of depression
Can increase cellular ageing
Drains your energy
Can lead to fatty liver
Increased risk of kidney disease
Poor dental health
Accelerate cognitive decline
I was nervous about starting, knowing the potential withdrawals I could experience, not to mention the Delirium Tremens. I did do more research on the latter, and everything I could find assured me that this was in extreme cases and usually for people who had become alcohol dependent, and actually needed it not only to mentally function but actually their bodies couldn’t function properly without it.
I knew I wasn’t dependent. I knew my relationship with alcohol was an unhealthy one, but I could go without it. I had the odd day off here and there and survived it. So I was confident I wouldn’t be effected in this way – didn’t stop me from being terrified. I had for years suffered with sleeping issues. Including sleep paralysis, so I was well versed on hallucinations and how utterly horrifying they are, so was not looking forward to the potential of that again.
Next stop, the list of Can haves and Can’t haves – not as simple as I thought.