Much of the world’s population is overweight and sugar intake is to blame. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes nearly 2 billion people on the planet are overweight, and over 600,000 are morbidly obese. Behavioral health researchers have made new advancements in analyzing the effects that sugar has on the body and brain, providing new opportunities to help treat excessive sugar cravings.
Is sugar addictive?
Yes, say James J. DiNicolantonio, cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, and Sean C. Lucan, and assistant professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in a New York Times op-ed. They note the average American consumes between a quarter and half pound of sugar daily. The sugar in one can of soda equals what a person would consume in one year 100 years ago. The authors point out sugar has properties consistent with addiction: cravings, withdrawal, negative effects on neurochemistry and significant changes to behavior. They cite a study where rats, given a choice between cocaine and sugar, choose sugar because the high is more pleasurable.
Researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) conducted a study finding that excessive sugar intake acts on the brain in the same manner as cocaine, morphine and tobacco. All reduce dopamine levels. The brain’s pleasure center, denied its dopamine, requires more sugar to compensate. This results in cravings, not unlike the cravings for illicit drugs or tobacco.
QUT tests with lab animals found those that consumed large amounts of sugar into adulthood displayed neurological and psychological problems. And, of course, the animals were overweight. Researchers also found artificial sweeteners could produce the same effects.
The sugar solution
Researchers say drug treatments for nicotine addiction, such as Varenicline (brand name Champix), may also be effective in curbing sugar cravings. Varenicline mitigates cravings by activating the receptors in the brain that respond to the drop in dopamine created by smoking. Briefly, the drug blocks nicotine from attaching to these receptors. QUT researchers also found mecamylamine (antihypertensive) and cytisine (a natural alkaloid) produce similar effects in the brain as varenicline. More research is required, however, in determining whether these drugs can be repurposed to treat sugar addiction.
Outside of treatment, DiNicolantonio and Lucan stress the importance of moderation. They suggest society should treat sugar the same as tobacco and alcohol. Remove sugary snacks from schools and hospitals and regulate it the same as we regulate the sale of alcohol and cigarettes. They also argue for a quantum change in how Americans regard food. We, as a society, must move away from the concept of food as a comfort and treat it as it was intended: for providing sustenance, promoting health and supplying nutrition.
Sovereign Health Group’s Florida treatment facilities at Pompano Beach and Fort Myers provide treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse. Sugar cravings can be a coping mechanism or co-occur with other behavioral health problems. Contact our 24/7 helpline for more information about all of the programs we offer.
About the author:
Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
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