New research in pigs finds that sugar intake alters the reward-processing circuitry of the brain in a similar way to addictive drugs.
Whenever we learn something new or experience something pleasurable, our brain’s reward system becomes activated. With the help of natural brain chemicals, several brain areas communicate with each other to help us learn and repeat behaviors that improve our knowledge and well-being.
Relying heavily on the neurotransmitter dopamine, the reward system helps explain several quintessential human experiences, such as falling in love, sexual pleasure, and enjoying time with friends.
However, certain substances, such as drugs, hijack the brain’s reward system, “artificially” activating it. Telling the brain to repeat pleasure-seeking behavior constantly is the mechanism behind addiction.
But is sugar such a substance? And if so, does it help explain sugary food cravings?
A United States scientist named Theron Randolph coined the term “food addiction” in the 1950s to describe the compulsive consumption of certain foods, such as milk, eggs, and potatoes.
Since then, the studies exploring this concept have yielded mixed results, and some experts argue that speaking of food addiction is a bit of a stretch.
New research helps shed some light on the matter, as Michael Winterdahl, associate professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University in Denmark, and his colleagues examined the effect of sugar intake on the reward circuitry in the brains of pigs.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.