Are you addicted to sugar? Although the idea of being addicted to food is rejected by many, there are a growing number of voices calling out sugary treats as more addictive than cocaine. Earlier today, Atlantic contributor Robert Lustig posited that sugar is the real culprit behind disorders such as binge eating, and that sugar isn't so much a food-stuff as it is an addictive substance in his article 'The Sugar Addiction Taboo,'
Lustig cited a recent study from Connecticut College which suggests that sugar is actually more addictive than cocaine and morphine. Rats were given either the drugs or Oreo cookies while researchers monitored the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain associated with pleasure response and addiction. The cookies were found to illicit a greater response than either of the drugs.
A lecture by Dr. Nora Volkow echoed these findings. “If you look at people who take drugs, the majority are not addicted,”she said. Statistically, with drugs such as heroin, less than 20% of users become addicted. Volkow then compared those rates to the more than 60% of American adults who are considered overweight, 34% of which are obese. To Volkow, this is a definite indicator not only that food can be addictive, but that people are more likely to have issues controlling intake of foods than intake of drugs.
“Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat/high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability,” said one of the authors of the Connecticut College study. “We chose Oreos not only because they are America’s favorite cookie, and highly palatable to rats, but also because products containing high amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses.”
Lustig believes that food companies add excess sugar to their products in order to cause addiction and increase profits with the side effect of increasing the waistlines of the public. He goes on to say that although sugar produces energy when consumed, so does alcohol and neither are needed for a healthy life. Although fat gets a bad reputation, it is necessary for survival, and apparently does not trigger overeating in the same way that sugar does. Dr. Eric Stice from Oregon Health Sciences University conducted a study which showed that consumption of fat did not stimulate the reward center of human subjects' brains, but sugar did. A study from Colombia University also supports Lustig's belief; researchers gave rats sugar water for three weeks before changing it to regular water. The rats exhibited the classic symptoms of addiction, including “binging, withdrawal, craving, and addiction transfer.” Researchers to concluded that is likely rats can become sugar dependent and that it “may translate to some human conditions.”
Maybe it's time to put away those sweets.