Previous article: Part 1 – Alcohol and Nicotine.
There are some things in life that make our lives better, for lack of a better term. We resort to them often, looking for ways to enhance our day to day. They come in many forms and guises. Some are illegal, like narcotics, and involve a number of complications. Others are regulated, like prescription medication, and are dispensed from experts. And some are straightforward and freely available, like jogging, swimming, or reading a book. In addition, some are free, like watching a sunset or taking a stroll, whereas others, like going to the gym or to church, involve charges.
This series looks at six popular addictions derived from legal and widely available substances, objects or activities. Let us examine them to see what happens when they take over a person’s life, continuing with: Sugar and Salt.
Sugar is an energy source, and it’s extremely pleasurable to ingest, in any form. Call it the most popular and widely available substance of them all. You can find it in white bread, juices, soft drinks, alcohol, chocolate, hot dogs, meat patties, pickles, any sort of processed food, even brands of water. Vital to the body’s workings in appropriate amounts, sugar fuels the body with quick energy, enabling people to carry out their activities. Its rapid action makes it ideal for fast replenishment. Its pleasurable taste makes it easy to become accustomed to.
That’s where the problems start. Too much sugar and its effects are neutralized. Its purpose is defeated. The easily-acquired boost retreats rapidly, giving way to a steep drop in energy levels that renders a person much more sluggish than before.
The effect is especially apparent in children, as frustrated parents will testify. A sudden intake of sugar, especially the processed kind, results in the proverbial “sugar high”, which has kids rev up like jet fighters, tear the place apart, then taper off and crash to the ground like potato sacks.
Adults experience this condition too, although the “high” is less noticeable and the “slump” is misinterpreted for regular exhaustion from a hard day’s work, a long week, or ongoing stress. Finish off a nice meal with a sweet desert and people are ready for bed. Their head feels fuzzy, their limbs turn to lead and they find it impossible to keep their eyes open, the inconvenience of which can be addressed with a dose of more sugar – or alcohol, or tobacco – thus compounding the problem.
Or they go to sleep, missing out on further activity, like dancing, or sex, an eventuality that has a way of backfiring sooner or later.
Then again, some people resort to sugar because all other avenues of pleasure have been taken away from them. Sugar becomes their sole provider of daily comfort, so down the hatch it goes, sweetening up those nerves.
A mineral crucial to the smooth functioning of the organism, salt (sodium chloride) is found in grocery stores, and offered for free in food establishments, in salt shakers or mills.
Salt production is regulated, involving a process that first removes impurities (and most other minerals from it) then loads it with anticaking agents (hence the ‘sodium chloride plus magnesium carbonate or sodium aluminosilicate‘ situation). We find it in almost all processed foods, ranging from bread, butter, meat, broth, soy sauce, soups, sushi, delicatessen items, cheesecakes, nuts, Big Macs, Nando’s coleslaw, and airplane meals.
In other words, it’s omnipresent (like sugar). Avoiding it is like attempting to avoid pollution: you have to go out of your way, and then some, to do so, and even then you run into traces of it.
In small amounts, salt is beneficial, aiding with body fluid balance, blood pressure, and other intricate electrochemical bodily processes, such neuronal synapse function. Too much of it though, and over the years the organism begins to malfunction on the regulatory level.
As far as the short term is concerned, when taking too much salt, people feel wrinkled up, like meat in brine. They crave fluids to hydrate themselves (often alcoholic or sweet, or both), only to then go for another hit of salt i.e. another neuro-electrical boost. After a while, the kidneys become agitated. They drop their capacity to filter the excess salt out of the bloodstream, especially when dehydrated. In extreme cases, people experience a pain through the torso, accompanied by severe bloating, a slight rise in temperature, clammy skin, and the sensation that one is about to burst like a hog. It’s a sickly and horrible sensation, which takes a day or more to subside, and during which ingestion of anything is impossible. But once it’s gone, the organism craves more minerals, and the search for salt resumes.