By: Dr. Colin O’Brien ND, Medical Doctor, Cyto-Matrix
The holidays are just around the corner and festive gatherings are in full swing: work parties, social outings and a sharp rise in baked goods all come together to make our personal health goals and the goals of our patients that much more difficult!
An online search for ways to curb these cravings will yield a lot of generic and common sense suggestions: more sleep, more water, more healthy foods and more planning ahead. These can help. However, targeted clinical interventions can sometimes help our patients achieve more concrete results.
Here are the top 5 interventions for reducing food and sugar cravings for your consideration:
- Inositol Powder: Inositol’s role in the body is to modulate receptor sensitivity. It can aid in mood health by regulating the activity of neurotransmitter receptors, just as it can improve PCOS outcomes by regulating insulin receptors. It turns out that both of these actions may explain Inositol’s benefits for cravings and addictions. A small double-blind crossover study examined inositol as a therapeutic tool in those with binge eating behaviours and found that 18 grams per day for 6 weeks led to significant improvements in eating patterns.[i] Anecdotally, I have used inositol powder in a number of patient cases with addictions ranging from sugar to cocaine. Although inositol is not typically the sole therapeutic intervention, I have seen success in controlling the addictive behaviours at doses of even 6-9 grams per day.
- Chromium: Although this mineral is well-known for its ability to regulate insulin receptor sensitivity and blood sugars in diabetics, its use for controlling cravings in seemingly normoglycemic individuals is overlooked. One study in people with major depressive disorder or dysthymia examined the use of 400-600 mcg of chromium picolinate per day for 8 weeks and found significant reductions in depressive symptoms and carbohydrate cravings, when compared to placebo.[ii] This makes sense, given that a better regulated mood and blood sugar level should, in turn, lead to fewer cravings.
- L-Glutamine: There are many anecdotal reports by practitioners of L-Glutamine’s ability to curb sugar cravings and I have seen this work in my own practice with select patients. The theory is that glutamine may improve insulin sensitivity and some portion of it may be directly converting to glucose in the body, thereby negating the crave.[iii] Higher protein intake in general does improve cravings and satiety throughout the day[iv] [v], but may not entirely explain the quick-acting effects. The point is: it works well acutely for cravings. I have seen 2.5-5 grams work well.
- Consider Mood Disorders: Food cravings are by no means a diagnostic feature of depression or anxiety, but if you or your patient suffer from either, there’s a much higher likelihood for sugar cravings.[vi] Some of it is physiological – we need carbohydrates to upregulate the production and release of serotonin in the brain.[vii] In many cases, it may be physiological and psychological, with food binging acting as the coping mechanism. Regardless, if you want to nip those cravings in the bud, addressing the underlying mental health component is a must.
- Gymnema sylvestre: This is an ancient herb that has traditionally been used for the management of blood sugars. Indeed, research today has confirmed that it can help to regulate blood sugar levels and HbA1c.[viii] However, gymnema is unique in that, when its leaves are chewed or come in direct contact with taste bud receptors, it interferes with the ability for the brain to sense “sweet” tastes. This makes them a useful tool for curbing sugar cravings in those interested in teas or chewable options. Internally, gymnemic acids blunt sugar uptake into the bloodstream and inhibit the peripheral utilization of glucose, so there is also an ongoing benefit for sugar regulation and food cravings. [ix]
To summarize: Address hormonal imbalances. Basic lifestyle improvements such as regular sleep and targeted nutrients such as inositol both generate the majority of their benefits from the regulation of insulin, blood sugars, neurotransmitters, cortisol and stress.
Even though stress wasn’t explicitly discussed above, it is well recognized that stressors can influence eating patterns[x], and that stressed individuals experience more cravings and consume more calories[xi]. Perhaps I take it for granted that every ND and integrative healthcare practitioner is addressing stress and hormonal imbalances in all cases! “Treat the root cause”. What else is new?
[i] Gelber D, Levine J and Belmaker RH. Effect of inositol on bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Int J Eat Disord. 2001 Apr;29(3):345-8.
[ii] Docherty JP, Sack DA, Roffman M, Finch M, Komorowski JR. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, exploratory trial of chromium picolinate in atypical depression: effect on carbohydrate craving. J Psychiatr Pract. 2005 Sep;11(5):302-14.
[iii] Mofino et al. Metabolic effects of glutamine on insulin sensitivity. Nutritional Therapy & Metabolism 2010; 28 (1): 7-11
[iv] Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CL, Martin CB, Campbell WW. The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Apr;19(4):818-24.
[v] Hoertel HA, Will MJ, Leidy HJ. A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese “breakfast skipping”, late-adolescent girls. Nutr J. 2014 Aug 6;13:80.
[vi] Wurtman, R.J. and Wurtman, J.J. 1995. Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression. Obesity Res 3(4): 477S–480S.
[vii] Wurtman J, Wurtman R. The Trajectory from Mood to Obesity. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;7(1):1-5.
[viii] Baskaran K, Ahamath BK, Shanmugasundaram KR and Shanmugasundaram ER. Antidiabetic effect of a leaf extract from Gymnema sylvestre in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients. J Ethnopharmacol 1990;30:295-305.
[ix] Kanetkar P, Singhal R, Kamat M. Gymnema sylvestre: A Memoir. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2007;41(2):77-81.
[x] Yau YH and Potenza MN. Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinol. 2013 Sep;38(3):255-67.
[xi] Epel E, Lapidus R, McEwen B and Brownell K . Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2001 Jan;26(1):37-49.