One bonbon followed by another, and suddenly the box of chocolates is empty.
A group of German scientists try to find out how sugar can lead to addiction
The vast majority of people can not resist chocolate – even when the will is to say “no”. Suspicion that sugar causes dependence led researchers at the Central Institute for Psychological Health in Mannheim to delve into the subject.
Just as people get addicted to alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, scholars try to understand when and why sugar can cause addiction.
The effect of food
To unravel the question, researcher Falk Kiefer submits overweight patients to an MRI session and observes their reactions to the display of images of sweets, cakes and ice creams.
With the experiment, Kiefer found that the images activate the so-called compensation mechanism of the brain in people who have eating problems.
In all cases, the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the central nervous system, has been observed. Also known as the “happiness hormone,” the substance provides positive expectations and a sense of well-being.
Sugar and drugs
This reaction is comparable to the effects caused by drugs or alcohol. When administered in increasing doses in rats, for example, alcohol causes the release of dopamine. When the animal stops receiving the substance, it shows human withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, restlessness and anxiety.
Similar symptoms are observed when rats receive sugar water. The researchers found in the brains of rats “sugar addicts” the same changes seen in people addicted to drugs.
“The processes that are released in the mechanism of sugar compensation are in fact comparable with alcohol and nicotine,” says researcher Rainer Spanagel.
Addiction and the Brain
In addition to the compensation mechanism, drug use also involves the brain circuit of stress, releasing neurotransmitters produced by the body itself, such as endorphin and opioids.
These neurotransmitters are responsible for the feeling of happiness and cause addiction. Large amounts of sugar transforms both systems into mice, explains Spanagel. The researcher believes that the findings may also be valid for people, since tests with animals in the area of chemical dependence are generally applicable to humans.
Authors: Johanna Bayer, Andreas Neuhaus (np)
Revision: Roselaine Wandscheer
Source: Deutsche Welle