Bad news for those who love sweets: our brain’s relationship with sugar is comparable to drug addiction. A new study has suggested that sugar has almost the same effects on the brain as addictive drugs.
Researchers go even further. They think our addiction to sugar could influence the worldwide obesity epidemic. Furthermore, sugar could lead to alcohol and other addictive substances.
Do not forget that sugar, like cocaine and opium, is cultivated from plants to yield pure white crystals. This process is not healthy at all because, according to researchers, it brings more addictive properties.
The study was co-authored by cardiovascular research scientist James J DiNicolantonio and cardiologist James H O’Keefe. They are both from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas.
Consuming sugar has the same effects as cocaine
“Consuming sugar produces effects similar to that of cocaine, altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure. It leads to the seeking out of sugar,” they write. They even cited studies that suggest that almost everyone prefers something sweet instead of cocaine.
Another study was published in the journal Scientific Reports. Scientists pictured the brains of seven minipigs for 12 days after they drank two liters of a sweet liquid.
In fact, they discovered that their brains’ reward system was fired up in a manner similar to drug abuse.
Computed tomography scans of the pig brains showed the consequences of consuming high amounts of sugar. It seems sugar reduces the “availability” of opioid and dopamine receptors.
So their response to the “rushes” of these feel-good neurotransmitters from the sugar intake was completely down. This is similar to what happens in the brains of those who suffer from cocaine addiction.
But what shocked the researchers is the effect on the brain’s dopamine and opioid systems in such a short time.
The effects on the brain’s dopamine and opioid systems in 12 days
“After just 12 days of sugar intake, we could see major changes in the brain’s dopamine and opioid systems. In fact, the opioid system is that part of the brain’s chemistry that is associated with well-being and pleasure. It was already activated after the very first intake,” said Michael Winterdahl.
He is the study author and associate professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University in Denmark. Michael Winterdahl added:
“Sugar can change the brain’s reward system after only twelve days, as we saw in the case of the pigs. You can imagine that natural stimuli such as social interaction are pushed into the background and replaced by sugar.”
All things considered, the study has some issues that I have to mention. First of all, the study was carried out on minipigs. Of course, pigs are good animals to study this subject. But we can’t know for sure if the results translate to humans.
And you should know that the pigs were sedated with ketamine during the study. This drug is a powerful sedative, so it could also influence the dopamine receptors.