Are you one of the many in the U.S. addicted to this substance?
Is Sugar Really a Form of Food Heroin?
The addictive nature of sugar is the stuff of legend. In fact, sugar is often compared to drugs.
And frankly, with good reason. That is because eating sugar causes immediate changes in the brain’s chemistry (similar to what is seen with narcotics use) which produces heightened pleasure.
For a very long time, the addictive qualities of sugar have been recognized anecdotally by layperson and scientists alike. But it was not until recently that we actually have had hard scientific evidence, which proves the ‘drug-like’ quality of sugar. This evidence has come to us thanks to the use of PET scan, an imaging technology that shows how organs and tissues work and, therefore, reveals a lot about how the brain reacts to the consumption (and overconsumption of sugar). It all began with an Italian study, which showed that there was decreased dopamine sensitivity in the obese. Interestingly, scientists started to notice the exact same pattern in cocaine addicts and alcoholics, suggesting that a reduction in dopamine receptors is associated with addictive behavior.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells) that operates primarily in the ‘pleasure and reward’ center of the brain. When someone takes a drug like heroin or consumes sugar, they are in effect stimulating the pleasure center of the brain by increasing the levels of dopamine. In fact, studies have shown that the intense sweetness of sugar can actually surpass the reward value of other drugs. Meaning that the dopamine spike you get from sugar is even more intense than a drug like cocaine.
But this is not a static process; continued exposure to either the drug or sugar diminishes the sensitivity to the dopamine; to achieve the same dopamine/pleasure center rewards, higher and higher levels of the hit (whether drug or sugar) are required. And just like drug withdrawal which is well known to cause physical, emotional and mental distress, removing sugar from the diet can lead to temporary depression and physical discomfort. Which is precisely why changing diet can be so difficult.
Read more of this article here from the UC Davis Integrative Medicine by Rosane Oliveira, DVM, PhD
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Cathy Bowers, RD