October 25


Is Sugar Really Addicting?

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN

October 25, 2016

Who loves Oreos??? Woot Woot!!! I do I do!!! Man do I love some Oreos. If (when) I indulge, they are my go-to snack. There’s something about twisting those bad boys, eating the crème center and then crunching on each of the cookies that is so intoxicating. I don’t know what it is! Wait? I do know what it is! It’s sugar!  

Sugar is a highly addicting food substance that many are addicted to without really knowing it.  A study was completed in 2013 to detail the addictive nature of high-fat/ high-sugar foods. Two groups of rats were used: one group conditioned with Oreo cookies and rice cakes and the other with a drug (either morphine or cocaine) and saline.

The first group was placed in a maze and one side had Oreo cookies and the other side had rice cakes. The second group went through the same process only with drugs instead of cookies. What they found was the rats spent the same amount of time looking for their cookie fix as they did looking for their drug fix.  Additionally, the Oreos stimulated more pleasure neurons in the brain than the drugs did.  Ever been down and the dumps and all you needed was a cupcake pick-me-up?  That would be why. 

Now, sugar has not officially been deemed an addictive substance and I don’t know that it ever will be.  Think of the implications that would have on the industry.  Personally, I think there is too much industry money flowing through policy-maker pockets for it to ever be classified as addictive.  But that’s just my opinion.  With that being said, sugar does activate the reward response in a similar manner to addictive drugs.  Studies have shown long-term sucrose (table sugar) intake caused alterations in the brain very similar to those exposed to long-term drug use; amphetamines and cocaine specifically.

There are a few studies (here and here), and hopefully more to come, linking a genetic mutation on the dopamine receptor causing a higher dependency of foods (high sugar/ high fat) and drugs.  Interestingly enough, these mutations were found to be higher in women than in men.  Now, that doesn’t mean that men can’t become addicted to foods it’s just that women are at a higher risk, given the population studies.  Genes can be altered with time; you aren’t a prisoner to them…they just make things a bit harder.

So what can you do if you suspect you have an addiction to sugar?  Treat it like any other addiction and abstain completely.  Go to a 12-step food addiction meeting to help you move past it.  Team up with a friend or do it as a family to quit sugar and lean on each other for support.  You can try to step down slowly from it by making a goal to remove a certain amount each day until it’s completely out of your diet.  I worked through my addiction through utilizing substitutes.  I switched from sugar to agave syrup (admittedly not an amazing substitute) and then to coconut sugar and then to nothing.  It took about a year in total but it worked for me. 

Tell me your struggle with sugars and what you’ve done to overcome them! Remember...health starts from within!


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Greene, D. (2013, October 15). Addicted to oreos? You truly might be - TODAY.com. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/health/addicted-oreos-you-truly-might-be-8C11399682

Klenowski, P. M., Shariff, M. R., Belmer, A., Fogarty, M. J., Mu, E. W. H., Bellingham, M. C., & Bartlett, S. E. (2016). Prolonged Consumption of Sucrose in a Binge-Like Manner, Alters the Morphology of Medium Spiny Neurons in the Nucleus Accumbens Shell. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 10, 54. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00054

Rats may require Oreo rehab. (2014). Advanced Materials & Processes, 172(1), 47.

Yeh, J., Trang, A., Henning, S. M., Wilhalme, H., Carpenter, C., Heber, D., & Li, Z. (2016). Food Cravings, Food Addiction, and a Dopamine-Resistant (DRD2 A1) Receptor Polymorphism in Asian American College Students. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 25(2), 424–429.

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