The Stress – Sugar Craving Connection

It’s often not possible to simply ‘will’ your way through sugar cravings.  Stress and inflammation are both significant triggers that can actually cause your body to crave carbohydrates.  Fighting the cravings without managing the stress or pain will often result in failure. 

A big holiday dinner can be quite satisfying… and stressful.  When you eat a large meal, your body releases a cascade of hormones, including insulin, to signal the cells to absorb the sugars and proteins.  Many of the component amino acids of proteins are absorbed by the muscles.  Tryptophan, an amino acid used to make the “feel-good” brain chemical serotonin, is generally not absorbed by the muscle.  Instead it is left free of competition from other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, where it is converted into serotonin.  Consequently, many people experience a “serotonin rush” after eating a large, carbohydrate-rich meal, which can induce a sense of calm.  Theoretically, people with a serotonin deficiency, (which is associated with chronic pain, depression, anxiety, migraines, PMS, insomnia, among other things), are more likely to crave carbohydrates. 

Inflammation may in fact steal tryptophan for other purposes, leaving you deficient of serotonin.  Other situations that could induce a serotonin deficiency include vitamin B3 (niacin) and B6 deficiency, diabetes, and insufficient production of stomach acid.  (Interestingly, chronic stress can decrease stomach acid production, thereby reducing absorption of tryptophan.)  All of these conditions might aggravate or cause sugar cravings. 

So, when attempting to curb your cravings, consider developing an action plan that includes stress management techniques and a good, whole-food, plant-based diet.  Some people will benefit from a more targeted naturopathic approach that includes supplements to reverse a serotonin deficiency.