Friday, December 12, 2008
As Addictive as Cocaine - Sugar
I've had patients talk about "sugar addiction" and I know I have sugar cravings myself, (especially at night), but now there is a new study that reports sugar stimulates the same part of the brain that is activated in other addictions.
Scientists from Princeton University showed that sugar caused neurochemical changes in the brains of rats in the same way as drugs that are abused. The animals experienced cravings, withdrawal and bingeing, which typifies "addiction".
By feeding the rats sugar water, they round there was a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine, just like drugs, alcohol and nicotine. When they used an alternating schedule of deprivation and bingeing, the dopamine effect was even stronger and after three weeks the rats showed signs of withdrawal.
What I found interesting is that after periods of abstinence, the rats ingested more sugar than before and if sugar was not available, they drank more alcohol. They also deprived the rats of food for 4 hours after they awoke, which duplicates skipping breakfast in the morning. The animals would then eat a larger quantity of food and drink even more sugar solution.
So what does all of the mean? Although you cannot extrapolate rat studies to humans, it does suggest that dieting, bingeing on sugar and skipping meals may create biochemical changes in the brain that sabotage our ability to maintain a healthy weight. Since many overweight people do these things, it is not a surprise that the weight increases and it is a viscous cycle.
If sugar does, indeed, have addictive like qualities, it would help to explain the obesity/diabetes epidemic that our world is facing. High fructose corn syrup is hidden in so many food products and is the main ingredient in soft drinks. We may be creating unhealthy addictions early in children that go far beyond the increased empty calories.
The brain changes in anorexia and bulimia may also be a result of a sugar effect. There are millions of people who classify themselves as "sugar addicts". These preliminary results may validate some of their proclamations.
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