Most of us are fond of at least one product that has the effect of a stimulant and that eventually becomes an addiction. These products include exercise stimulant drinks (they come in cans and look like cola), fizzy aerated drinks, tobacco, betelnut, betel leaf, strong coffee, strong tea, ma huang (an ephedrine-like compound consumed in china), and alcohol.
Before I tell you why we shouldn’t consume these products, I’d like to deal with the question of why we do consume them in the first place.
There’s no one who doesn’t know that products like these, consumed in excess, can severely harm our bodies. Yet, we still find them hard to resist. The need to eat stimulant food is a simple human weakness that has existed for ages: humans (and many animals) have always indulged in foods that give a sort of emotional high. In clinical terms, this means rapid heart beat, a little sweating, dilation or constriction of the pupils of the eye, a warm flush on the face, and a sense of greater sensitivity, concentration and perception.
These sensations of ‘high’ die down within a few hours, and we are left feeling listless and low. This leads to a craving for that food again, to experience the high one more time. And there we are going round and round in a vicious circle.
The physiology of addictions is as follows: When you eat an addictive food, it stimulates the hormone like substances found at the end of your nerves, which triggers an avalanche of similar stimulatory substances and you experience a high. As the substances near the nerves are depleted, you get into the low phase, which leads you to crave that food again. This yo-yo phase of nerve stimulation and depletion leads to a pattern of addiction.
Consuming addictive foods is one of the oldest unhealthy food practices and, despite a revolution in health consciousness; it shows no signs of dying out. Below are some side effects of certain addictive foods.
Alcohol Addiction: Not only does alcohol act as a depressant and leaves you feeling hungover, it can also cause erosion of stomach and intestinal lining, liver damage and nutritional deficiency.
Tobacco: Smoking can leave you breathless and can cause erosion of your gums and tongue. It can lead to cancer of the buccal mucosa.
Ma huang: It contains ephedrine and leads to heart problems.
Betel nut: Leads to the discoloration of teeth, erosion of the lining of the mouth, and cancer of the mouth and upper tract. It also leads to heart problems among people who already have a weak heart.
Aerated drinks such as diet-cola: High doses of caffeine and can also play havoc with your body’s blood sugar levels. Have too much and it can actually hinder your weight loss efforts.
Caffeine and xanthine: Found in tea, coffee. These become harmful only in very high doses; don’t consume more than five cups a day. It can prevent you from getting into a deep sleep which can lead to further complications and again it can hinder your weight loss efforts.
Mixed drug reactions: People who consume medications for the heart, hypertension and asthma have to be very careful about the interactions of the drugs with stimulant foods, as mixing the two can be fatal. After years of experience, all doctors know how difficult it is to break the food addictions of their patients.
So like them, I can only advise a good compromise. If you can’t break the addiction, then at least you should practice moderation. Take simple steps that don;t require too much motivation in order to help you work towards breaking your habit. Keep a journal of how many drinks you have in a day for example. If you find that you have tried but keep on failing to break your habit then look for professional help or support from those around you.