by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
Is sugar an addictive drug?
Those who have a "sweet tooth", which in fact is most of us, are being closely studied by scientists.
They tell us that most of us have a food addiction of some sort. Even thin people!
In fact, they've found many similarities between substance abuse and sugar consumption.
What are the common elements of a substance addiction?
- Loss of control
- Continued use despite adverse consequences
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Tolerance (need more to feel the same effect)
So, is sugar an addictive drug?
According researchers at the University of Bordeaux, the answer is yes.
In 2007, they discovered that sugar has a bigger impact than hard drugs in the brain:
Their experiments showed that refined sugar is 4 times more addictive than cocaine!
Today, the impact of sweetness on the human brain’s pleasure centres is uncontested.
Many other studies compare sugar’s effects to those of "opiates", because of sugar’s impact on endorphin function.
This means that sugar has a heroin-like effect on your brain, making your endorphin centres get all lit up. Almost like a broken traffic light, flashing all 3 colours at once, because your pleasure centres have now taken over!
The abnormally high stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich foods generates excessive reward signals in your brain, which have the potential to override normal self-control mechanisms, leading to addiction.
In other words, refined sugar highjacks all the brain receptors that are meant to regulate your appetite. Now, it's not hunger but your cravings running the show.
Scientists speculate that the sweet receptors (two protein receptors on your tongue) have not adapted to our high-sugar consumption. Even when that sweet flavour is somehow "hidden".
This goes beyond ice cream or biscuits. We are talking about anything that has added sugars too, including Pringles and deli meats like cured ham and pepperoni!
The truth is that refined and added sugars make food tastier. And manufacturers have long realised how addictive sugar can be.
Most experts believe that refined sugar is fuelling a global obesity pandemic, contributing to 35 million deaths annually worldwide from noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
So the question you need to ask yourself: Is your sugar addiction lack of self-control? Or is it an inevitable consequence of today's food products and hidden sugars in most of them?
P.S. Here's the full 2007 study conducted by the University of Bordeaux (you're most welcome!)
The scientific evidence of sugar's addictive power is irrefutable. Knowing that it's 4 times more addictive than hard drugs makes me realise that self-control and "mindfulness" around it may not work.
I'll leave you with this for now. But I want to hear from you.
- Do you have a sweet tooth?
- Which foods are your "weakness"?
- Do you believe that is lack of self-control... or something else?
Let me know in the comments below!