Study Suggests Sugar May Be Addictive
Dec. 11 -- WEDNESDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Science is verifying what many overeaters have suspected for a long time: sugar can be addictive.
In fact, the sweetener seems to prompt the same chemical changes in the brain seen in people who abuse drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
The findings were to be presented Wednesday at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology's annual meeting, in Nashville.
"Our evidence from an animal model suggests that bingeing on sugar can act in the brain in ways very similar to drugs of abuse," lead researcher Bart Hoebel, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, said during a Dec. 4 teleconference.
"Drinking large amounts of sugar water when hungry can cause behavioral changes and even neurochemical changes in the brain which resemble changes that are produced when animals or people take substances of abuse. These animals show signs of withdrawal and even long-lasting effects that might resemble craving," he said.
Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, added: "The big question has been whether it's just a behavioral thing or is it a metabolic chemical thing, and evidence like this supports the idea that something chemical is going on."
A "sugar addiction" may even act as a "gateway" to later abuse of drugs such as alcohol, Hoebel said.
The stages of addiction, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, include bingeing, withdrawal and craving.
For the new research, rats were denied food for 12 hours a day, then were given access to food and sugar (25 percent glucose and 10 percent sucrose, similar to a soft drink) for 12 hours a day, for three to four weeks.
The bingeing released a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine each time in the part of the brain involved in reward, the nucleus accumbens. "It's been known that drugs of abuse release or increase the levels of dopamine in that part of the brain," Hoebel said.