Understanding Trauma and Sugar Addiction

Learn about the connection between sugar, inflammation and depression

Understanding Sugar Addiction and Trauma Recovery

Refined sugar is a pro-inflammatory food product. It contributes to and exacerbates inflammation, pain, and depression. As we work to resolve trauma, the often forgotten or missing piece is how sugar plays a role in depression, mood, and pain. 

Cortisol is a stress hormone dysregulated by traumatic events. It is responsible for raising blood sugar levels to give us our get-up-and-go feeling. But in response to complex trauma, cortisol is often low and cannot raise those blood sugar levels. This often leads to sugar cravings, and in turn, eating lots of sugar and refined carbs. Over time, this results in labile blood sugar and symptoms of irritability, shakiness or feeling like rubber, or dizziness. This is called reactive hypoglycemia and underlies the ups and downs we call mood lability, when in fact, it may be blood sugar imbalance. 

Our sugar intake leads to inflammation in the body. We may or may not feel this low-burning fire. If we have pain, we have inflammation, but we can have inflammation and not yet feel it as pain. Inflammation, in turn, disrupts cytokines and immune function, and depletes serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Thus, the cycle of mood, depression, and pain continues. Giving up refined sugar does not mean we cannot enjoy the sweetness of life and foods; read on to learn why and how to give up sugar. 

Why Not Sugar?

Sugar refined from sugar cane and sugar beets deplete B vitamins and immune support minerals, such as zinc. Our B vitamins aid neurological function and keep us calm. Refined sugar contributes to depression; In the US, so many people eat refined sugar; this may account for the high levels of depression, pain, and opiate addiction. It exacerbates pain and raises triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Sugar overwhelms the body by robbing it of nutrients.

There are several good alternatives to sugar and sweeteners that do not have the side effects of artificial sweeteners, like aspartame. Individuals with mood disorders are susceptible to aspartame, making depression worse by disrupting brain function.

Stopping the Sugar Addiction

Going on a protein-rich diet for 7–10 days can help withdrawal from sugar and refined carbohydrates. Eat small amounts (2–4 ounces) of protein six times a day (about every 3–4 hours) and one to two servings of a root vegetable, such as a sweet potato or carrots topped with butter, coconut oil, or olive oil, along with raw salads or cooked green vegetables. There is no need to be hungry, so eat as often as you need. Following this change in diet, most people will lose their craving for refined carbohydrates and sugars. Then, add small amounts of additional carbohydrates like fruit and grains to the diet each day.

Sugar Substitutes

Stevia is the ideal sugar substitute. It is a hundred times sweeter than sugar, reducing blood sugar. While the powdered form of stevia can tend to leave a bitter aftertaste, the liquid form does not. Use it in drinks or food preparation. Xylitol is another sweetener without side effects. It was first extracted from birch trees and provides a healthy sweet taste that does not raise blood glucose levels or negatively affect dental health. But many people experience a reaction to it, including gas and digestive upset, and take note! it is deadly for dogs.

Stevia/Sugar Conversion Table

Sugar AmountEquivalent Stevia
Powdered Extract
Equivalent Stevia
Liquid Concentrate
1 cup1 teaspoon1 teaspoon (24-36 drops)
1 tablespoon¼ teaspoon6-9 drops
1 teaspoonA pinch to 1/16 teaspoon2-4 drops

Alternatives to Sugar

  • Smoothies sweetened with stevia are an alternative to sugary treats.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder with stevia/homemade stevia-sweetened chocolate candy are alternatives to chocolate with sugar.
  • Honey or maple syrup are alternatives to cane sugar.
  • Hot cocoa sweetened with stevia, and real whipped cream is an alternative to chocolate bars with sugar.
  • Raw fruit is an alternative to fruit cocktails.
  • Green juice is an alternative to fruit juice.
  • Mineral water flavored with frozen fruit and stevia is an alternative to soda.
  • Herbal tea over ice is an alternative to premade iced tea.
  • Plantains make an excellent addition to the starchy carbohydrate repertoire when eliminating sugar or wheat from the diet. 

Continue learning about sugar, how it affects our health, and how to successfully beat sugar addiction in my newest online course: Integrative Medicine and Nutrition for PTSD and Complex Trauma.

Ready to take control of your health? Schedule an Appointment