Sugar could be just as addictive as cocaine, research has suggested.
It has a similar effect on the brain to powerful illegal drugs, scientists warned.
It means sugar can cause cravings, binges and withdrawal symptoms similar to a drug addict going cold turkey, they said.
Cutting it out may lead to depression and even behavioural disorders such as ADHD, the paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed.
Cutting sugar (file pic) out of a diet may lead to depression and even behavioural disorders such as ADHD, the paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed
Experts are increasingly worried about consumption of sugar in Britain, particularly among children.
Average sugar intake is nearly three times the recommended limit, according to Public Health England, and is driving up obesity, tooth decay and heart disease. For the latest study the scientists, from Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, assessed all existing research about sugar and addiction.
They concluded that refined sugar and opioid drugs trigger a similar response from the brain’s reward system, both releasing dopamine and other pleasure-inducing chemicals. But as we get used to this feeling we need more to get the same response, leading to addiction.
The authors, led by cardiovascular research scientist Dr James DiNicolantonio, wrote: ‘Consuming sugar produces effects similar to that of cocaine, altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure.’
They think this response to sugar evolved in early man so that we choose food high in energy, such as fruit and honey. Dr DiNicolantonio, who has written about the impact of salt in his book The Salt Fix, said: ‘The increased consumption of foods high in sugar would have increased the chances for survival during periods of food scarcity. Nowadays, sugar has been refined to the state of a chemical-like substance.
‘Unfortunately humans never adapted to the intense reward that follows the consumption of highly refined added sugars, and the 24/7 availability of these sugars provides us with little reprieve.’
Experts are increasingly worried about sugar consumption in the UK, particularly for children
He added: ‘This unnatural reward from consuming sugar – surpassing that of drugs abuse – overrides our self-control mechanisms predisposing us to sugar addiction.’
The researchers cited experiments on rats which showed sugar was more addictive than opioid drugs. They said the same is likely to be true for humans.
They added that withdrawal symptoms can include behavioural problems or depression. They said: ‘The lack of dopamine in the brain during periods between sugar consumption has been suggested to lead to ADHD-like symptoms.
During periods off sugar, a mild state of depression may ensue due to dopamine deficiency, which can be temporarily relieved by consuming more sugar – hence the term “sugar fix”.’