Is Sugar Really Addictive?

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • Is Sugar Really Addictive?

    Sugar causes weight gain, about that there is no doubt. It contains glucose and fructose. Glucose is a molecule that is essential to life, and our bodies produce it. On the other hand, our bodies do not produce fructose and it is metabolized quite differently from glucose. 


    Fructose makes your liver synthesize fats which can lead to fat around the organs and to heart disease. It increases blood levels of uric acid and elevates blood pressure. It can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity, and type II diabetes. It can even in some cases cause cancer. This is a pretty sour resume unless you are in the business of despair.

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    Needless to say, sugar can be very harmful indeed. A final contention offered up by quite a few is that sugar might also be addictive, but is that true? 


    You Bet It Is

    Dopamine is a chemical that is produced in the part of the brain that is associated with reward. When our brain is rewarded, dopamine levels spike. Unless you are an addict.


    Dopamine spikes in addicts occur in anticipation of the reward. Once the reward is had, the dopamine effect is minimized because the chemical has been expended in anticipation. PET brain scans also show that addicts have fewer than average dopamine receptors and that weaker dopamine signals are sent between cells. The addicted brain responds to sugar the same as it does to alcohol and cocaine. 


    One of the more notable experiments in testing for sugar addiction was conducted at Connecticut College. Researchers found that when test rats were given the option of Oreo cookies or rice cakes, the rats spent as much time eating Oreos as they did using cocaine or morphine. When a protein in the brain that activates a part  that controls the feeling of pleasure was measured it was found that Oreo cookies was much more influential than either of the drugs. 


    So there you have it, right? Sugar is an addictive substance. Well, maybe. 


    You Bet It's Not

    It looks like the good folks at the University of Edinburgh have a pin for the 'sugar is addictive' bubble. An international team of scientists has failed to  discover any strong evidence to support the contention that people are addicetd to chemical substances in certain foods. Furthermore, researchers maintain that the brain does not respond to nutrients the same way it responds to addictive drugs like heroin or cocaine. 


    It is the contention of the Edinburgh group that while people can be addicted to eating, the consumption of certain foods high in sugar or fat is not part of the equation. People instead develop a behavioral disorder comparable to conditions such as gambling addiction. The compulsion to eat is psychological and driven by positive feelings that the brain associstes with eating. The researchers believe that eating addiction should be classified as a mental disorder although further research is needed to clarify a diagnosis. 


    As far as sugar being addictive, it looks like the answer to that will depend on who you ask.   


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Published On: December 09, 2014