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Once a luxury food reserved for royalty, sugar has become the largest source of calories in the modern diet. And due to its effects on brain chemistry, the more sugar we eat, the more sugar we want.

Although I have always been upfront about my own health, I have a confession to repeat For over 20 years, I have had type 1 diabetes.

I didn't eat a lot of sugar, gain a lot of weight, and then get diabetes. I had a linebacker's build, but I was mostly muscle, bicycling 50 miles a week and setting up a plant nursery with a friend after my day job. I thought nothing of putting railroad ties on either shoulder and lugging them 100 feet across muddy ground. I could show my toddler niece how to do a somersault. Then I caught the flu and when I recovered, I was an insulin-dependent diabetic, discovering I had diabetes when my blood sugars went so high I temporarily went blind.

An Unusual "Sweet Tooth" Can Signal Diabetes Is On Its Way

Even though I had normal blood sugar levels until I became insulin-dependent, there were some subtle signs about a year before that I might be on track for diabetes, more or less waiting for some event to finish off a still-fully functional pancreas. Maybe six months before the sudden onset of insulin dependence for me, I was sitting across from a friend at lunch. We were served unsweetened iced tea, and I added sugar to mine.

I added sugar, and I added sugar, and I added some more. My friend commented that not only did I evidently "like a little tea with my sugar," that he had never seen anyone put so much sugar in iced tea. And the tea didn't taste sweet to me.

I didn't actually develop diabetes until I had a viral infection a few months later. However, I quickly learned I had both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. My pancreas had stopped making insulin, but my body was resistant to insulin. That's a very difficult combination of conditions to manage, and probably no diet (I got enormous amounts of exercise) would have prevented the destruction of my beta cells by an autoimmune reaction to a virus. But if I knew then what I know now I could have at least have avoided developing type 2 diabetes along with type 1.

Diabetes May Be a Brain Disease

My prediabetic symptom was an insatiable sweet tooth. No amount of sugar made anything taste sweet enough. And it wasn't until June of 2013 that a physician at Stony Brook University in New York, Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, announced his research team's finding that people who are on a fast track to diabetes have brains that make less than expected amounts of the "pleasure chemical" dopamine.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Anderzhanova E, Covasa M, Hajnal A. Altered basal and stimulated accumbens dopamine release in obese OLETF rats as a function of age and diabetic status. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007 Aug. 293(2):R603-11. Epub 2007 Jun 6.
  • Stony Brook University (2013, June 10). High sugar intake linked to low dopamine release in insulin resistant patients. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from­ /releases/2013/06/130610223722.htm.
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