Excessive Sugar Intake Can Cause Addiction

sugar, kids' health

Photo courtesy of Coralie Ferreira via Flickr

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding physical and mental health affects of excessive sugar consumption on human body, and especially on children. This 2007 published study explored behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake, and found that in some circumstances these affects can resemble the effects of addictive drugs. As the authors explain: “Food addiction seems plausible because brain pathways that evolved to respond to natural rewards are also activated by addictive drugs. Sugar is noteworthy as a substance that releases opioids and dopamine and thus might be expected to have addictive potential. This review summarizes evidence of sugar dependence in an animal model. Four components of addiction are analyzed. “Bingeing”, “withdrawal”, “craving” and cross-sensitization are each given operational definitions and demonstrated behaviorally with sugar bingeing as the reinforcer. These behaviors are then related to neurochemical changes in the brain that also occur with addictive drugs. Neural adaptations include changes in dopamine and opioid receptor binding, enkephalin mRNA expression and dopamine and acetylcholine release in the nucleus accumbens. The evidence supports the hypothesis that under certain circumstances rats can become sugar dependent. This may translate to some human conditions as suggested by the literature on eating disorders and obesity. In the aggregate, this is evidence that sugar can be addictive”.


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