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Sugar Hijacks Your Brain

Sugar Hijacks Your Brain

Sugar is sneaky—and unbeknown to many of us, we’ve become hooked before we know it. In ways that drugs such as nicotine, cocaine and heroin hijack the brain’s reward pathway and make users dependent, sugar is addictive in the same way.

Sugar Detox

“It almost feels like you’re detoxing from drugs,” some people say. There are four major components of addiction: binging, withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitization. All of these components have been observed in animal models of addiction—sugar as well as drugs.

A typical experiment goes like this: rats are deprived of food for 12 hours each day, then given 12 hours of access to a sugary solution and regular chow. After a month of following this daily pattern, rats display behaviors similar to those on drugs of abuse.

They’ll binge on the sugar solution in a short period of time, much more than their regular food. They also show signs of anxiety and depression during the food deprivation period. Many sugar-treated rats who are later exposed to drugs, such as cocaine and opiates, demonstrate dependent behaviors toward the drugs compared to rats who did not consume sugar beforehand.

Like drugs, sugar spikes dopamine release. Over the long term, regular sugar consumption actually changes the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors in both the midbrain and frontal cortex.

This means that repeated access to sugar over time leads to prolonged dopamine signaling, greater excitation of the brain’s reward pathways and a need for even more sugar to activate all of the midbrain dopamine receptors like before. The brain becomes tolerant to sugar—and more is needed to attain the same “sugar high.”

Sugar Withdrawal

In a 2002 study by Carlo Colantuoni and colleagues of Princeton University, rats who had undergone a typical sugar dependence protocol then underwent “sugar withdrawal.” This was facilitated by either food deprivation or treatment with naloxone, a drug used for treating opiate addiction which binds to receptors in the brain’s reward system.

Both withdrawal methods led to physical problems, including teeth chattering, paw tremors, and head shaking. Naloxone treatment also appeared to make the rats more anxious, as they spent less time on an elevated apparatus that lacked walls on either side. Similar withdrawal experiments by others also report behavior similar to depression in tasks such as the forced swim test. Rats in sugar withdrawal are more likely to show passive behaviors (like floating) than active behaviors (like trying to escape) when placed in water, suggesting feelings of helplessness.

A new study published by Victor Mangabeira and colleagues in Physiology & Behavior reports that sugar withdrawal is also linked to impulsive behavior. Initially, rats were trained to receive water by pushing a lever. After training, the animals returned to their home cages and had access to a sugar solution and water, or just water alone. After 30 days, when rats were again given the opportunity to press a lever for water, those who had become dependent on sugar pressed the lever significantly more times than control animals, suggesting impulsive behavior.

I encourage you to swear off sugar for good. There are also countless articles and books about the boundless energy and new-found happiness in those who have sworn off sugar for good. There are great healthful sweeteners to choose from such as stevia and coconut sugar. So why not say good bye to sugar for good and see how good you can feel?  I did years ago and it was one of my life changers.

Adapted from http://qz.com/353138/this-is-what-happens-to-your-brain-when-you-stop-eating-sugar/

13 comments

  1. I know that I struggle with sugar addiction. It is my main problem.
    So much trouble kicking this nasty habit.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thx.

    • clarissa zaikas

      What do you suggest as a way to get off sugar!

      • Use only healthy sweeteners such as stevia or coconut nectar. Get rid of everything that has sugar in it. Read labels and avoid all forms of sugar. Instead of dessert, eat fresh fruit. Choose low sugar fruit such as berries or apple. You can freeze fruit and it will be a substitute for ice cream. Get my book The Anti-Inflammation Diet. It has some healthy desserts. Take GTF Chromium; helps with sugar cravings. Make sure you get enough protein; a lack causes cravings. Also, an overgrowth of yeast will cause sugar cravings; get it under control.

  2. Thank you for sharing Cherie.

  3. Thanks Cherie: I do grow Stevia on my window sill but I didn’t know anything about Coconut sugar as being a good substitute for sugar- thanks
    How do I use Stevia in recipes – just dry the leaves?
    Thanks again Cherie – I tried to get your book but won’t mail to Canada, I guess!
    God Bless
    Diane

    • Diane,
      You can order my books through Amazon. I do believe they ship to Canada.

      • Carol,
        You could try a supplement GTF Chromium. That has helped some people. Also, make sure you eat adequate protein; too little causes sugar cravings. Also, you might have a yeast overgrowth.

  4. my cholesterol level was so high the doctor said I had to give up sugar, starches and even fruit for a period of time. I’
    m amazed at how good I already feel on day 8. Dr. Steven Sinatra is worth listening to as he describes the correlation between high cholesterol and sugar. Already experiencing weight loss, more energy AND I don’t experience hunger pains during the day. THX for this article. Now to get my teens off of sugar!

    • Congratulations Anne! This is the key–it’s sugar not fat that contributes to high cholesterol. You have a wise doctor.

  5. I am really trying to give up sugar but not only does my body crave it I sometimes get sugar low of 3.7 and I get the shakes and feel quite bad and then I overload on sugar so it’s like going round in circles . Now they don’t know if I got a adreline and cortisol problem . I’ve got you adrenaline book .

  6. Cherie, I have been meaning to write and tell you that I bought your Juice Lady’s Turbo Diet book as a Christmas present to myself and I am a changed woman! I am 52 and have struggled with weight since I was 18. How many times have I thought I found a new answer to my overeating only to lose and gain it all back again. Your teachings were the icing on the cake for me. I now understand the importance of low glycemic, high alkaline eating. I bought a great Breville Juicer and my kitchen looks like an Earth Fare produce isle. I love the juice bar at Earth Fare and I think I am on my way to licking this money on my back!!

    • Hi Mimi,
      Congratulations on losing weight and finding your true path to health & fitness. Do you have before and after pictures you could send me. I would love to post them on my website. Also, how much weight did you lose?

  7. Oops. Meant to say I am on my way to kicking this “monkey” off my back. Get rid of the weight struggle!