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Study Suggests Sugar May Be Addictive
Date:12/10/2008

ime 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.

But it wasn't only the sugar that caused this effect, Hoebel explained -- it was the sugar combined with the alternating schedule of deprivation and largesse. After three weeks, the rats showed signs of withdrawal similar to those seen when people stop smoking or drinking alcohol or using morphine.

The scientists next blocked the animals' brain endorphins and found withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, behavioral depression and a drop in dopamine levels. In other words, they confirmed a neurochemical link with the rats' behavior.

But longer periods of abstinence didn't "cure" the rats. Instead, there were long-lasting effects with the animals: They ingested more sugar than before, as if they were craving the substance and, without sugar, they drank more alcohol.

The researchers speculated that some of these brain changes may also occur in people with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia, although more research needs to be done to confirm the effects in humans.

"Some say it's easy to lose weight -- you just have to shut your mouth, stop eating so much," Aronne said. "I tell them a good way to overcome global warming is if people made less carbon dioxide by breathing less. Obviously, that's absurd. You can't do it because you feel uncomfortable.

"The same thing is true of eating," he added. "Fattening food has an impact on the regulating mechanism that breaks down your sense of fullness, makes you feel an urge to go back and get that blast of sugar and this creates the vicious cycle of weight gain that we're going through."

More information

Visit Overeaters Anonymous for more on food addiction and eating disorders.


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