How Sugar Addiction Causes Changes in the Brain and Behavior

Sugar addiction, like drugs, causes many health complications. Most of us don’t realize.

What if I tell you that both drugs and sugar can become so harmful to health, to the point of generating significant changes in our body and behavior?

Definition of “sugar”:  It is the most common name that sucrose receives, also called “common sugar” or “table sugar” – of chemical composition C₁₂H₂₂O₁₁ – is formed by a molecule of fructose and sucrose, obtained mainly from the beet or sugar cane.

Since we have reason, we consume sweet things, more than any other food. According to researchers in this area, it is time to see sugar as an addiction.

A new study on the effects of sugar on the brain

According to research recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, sugar causes several physiological effects in the body, and there are many reasons to think it is unhealthy. The observed effects are similar to the use of addictive drugs such as cocaine.

The research is based on experiments performed on pigs, which received two liters of sugar water daily for 12 days. To follow up, images of the brains of the pigs were taken at the beginning of the experiment, after the first day and after the last day of the study.

The effects of sucrose were investigated using PET images with carfentanil and raclopride (opioid receptor antagonists μ and dopamine D2 / 3 respectively) in seven anesthetized Göttingen pigs.

Voxel-wise junction potentials (BPND) were calculated, for this the cerebellum was used as a non-displaceable junction region, subsequently, differences were analyzed with non-parametric statistical mapping, and consequently, a regional analysis was performed.

The binding potential (BPND) of the tracers studied significantly decreased in the striatum, the amygdala, the thalamus, the nucleus accumbens, the prefrontal cortex and the cingulate cortex, which coincides with the low regulation of the concentration of the receptors.

According to Michael Winterdahl – Professor of the Department of Medicine at the University of Aarhus in Denmark and lead author of the research – after only 12 days of consuming sugar, significant changes were seen in the brain’s opioid and dopamine systems.

As is known, the chemical part of these brain systems is directly associated with pleasure and well-being and, with the intake of sugar, are rapidly activated.

We seek the reward

Now that we know that sugar has the properties to change the reward system of the brain, as it was possible to see in this study with pigs, we could say that social interaction or the learning process as natural stimuli, are taken to the background, and can clearly be replaced by artificial stimuli such as sugar or others.

“Basically, we all look for the impulse or effect of dopamine, and if we find something that gives us more pleasure, then we choose that”, explains Winterdahl.

Unlike other studies – for example, when studying addictive substances, such as sugar in this case – research is usually done with rodent brains.

In this case, the pig’s brain was a good alternative, due to the complexity of its brain, rather than a rodent. At the same time, size is used to make images of deeper brain structures with the help of brain scans for humans.

According to the researchers, the ideal would be to conduct studies in humans, but it would be very difficult to keep a concrete control, in addition to the fact that dopamine levels in humans can be modulated or regulated by many other factors (it can be diet, a relationship love or addiction to games) and this could vary data or results.


Sucrose intake may be associated with a potential addiction due to the low availability of dopamine receptors and opioids. These receptors are widely expressed in the brain, especially in structures related to the modulation of reward or feeding processes.

In general, we do not realize this kind of nutritional aspect until it is too late. If you are an athlete, maybe a football player expecting to be part of the NFL future odds, taking the ideal amount of sugar is essential. However, if you have a desk job and you are not very active, sugar will be poison in your health.

Taking care of ourselves is our responsibility and we must do it consciously, taking into account medical recommendations and trying to lead a healthy and addiction-free life.

Editorial Staffs at Healthtian, A team of Writers.

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