I HELP a lot of people who have eating disorders and so many of them have addictions to sugar which started in childhood or at university and then lead to binge behaviours in adult life. I follow the work of Dr Robert Lustig, from a charity I belong to in America called the Food and Behaviour Research Organisation, and he was in London last week speaking about the sugar peril. You might have seen him on BBC Breakfast.
Yesterday a U.S. scientist, Professor Bart Hoebel, revealed new evidence demonstrating that sugar can be an addictive substance, wielding its power over the brains of lab animals in a manner similar to many drugs of abuse.
Sugar peril’s been known about for a long time, Scientists at Princeton University have been studying signs of sugar addiction in rats for years.
Rats which had been trained to become dependent on high doses of sugar – a bit like anyone who drinks lots of Coke, scoffs biscuits or has three spoons of sugar in their tea five times a day – exhibited alarming behaviour when their sugar supply was cut off and then restored.
The rats consumed more sugar than ever before, suggesting craving and relapse behaviour. Their motivation for the sugar peril had grown and as the professor says: “Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.”
The rats also drank more alcohol than normal after their sugar supply was cut off, showing that their previous bingeing behaviour had made changes in their brain function.
The research team proved a point I’ve written about many times – that the sugar peril releases a chemical called dopamine in the brain which triggers addiction. As well as producing a temporary high – the infamous “sugar rush” – dopamine affects energy, memory and focus.
The researchers say sugar bingeing causes long-lasting effects in the brain and increases the inclination to take other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol.
Here’s a sobering thought: The effects sugar has on the rats’ brains are similar to those caused when rats are put on cocaine or heroin.
Robert Lustig has studied eating patterns in 175 countries and discovered that the more sugar on the market the higher the country’s diabetes rate. The researchers found that for every additional 150 calories of sugar (the amount that’s in a 12-ounce can of fizzy drink) available per person per day, the prevalence of diabetes in the population rose by one per cent.
Here’s a video of one of his remarkable lectures on the sugar peril that more than three million people have watched on YouTube.
It lasts 90 minutes but it explains very clearly why sugar is one of the root causes of the obesity epidemic around the world. Robert debunks the myth that people choose to be overweight and have only themselves to blame:
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