Excess sugar consumption ‘similar to cocaine addiction', says study

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Over consumption of sugar has been likened to the abuse of drugs such as morphine and cocaine. (© iStock.com)
Over consumption of sugar has been likened to the abuse of drugs such as morphine and cocaine. (© iStock.com)

Related tags Drug addiction

An over consumption of sugar sets in motion a reward mechanism in the brain that mimics other drugs such as tobacco and cocaine, a study has suggested.

The study identified that excessive sugar consumption increases the dopamine levels in the brain with higher levels of sugar needed to achieve the same reward levels and avoid mild states of depression.

The researchers believe that since the pathways of each drug are so similar, drugs used to treat nicotine addiction could be used to treat addiction to sugar.

The team from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) used animal models to investigate the efficacy of varenicline, a drug that that can regulate dopamine in the reward pathway of the brain, and its effect of reducing long-term sucrose consumption.

Wistar rats were divided into groups of 10–12 and varenicline was administered to each animal to assess short-term exposure (4 weeks) and, long-term exposure (12 weeks)

Study details

Results revealed that in the short-term only 2 mg/kg of vareniciline significantly decreased sucrose consumption. In contrast, in the long-term both 1 and 2 mg/kg varenicline decreased sucrose consumption.

They demonstrated that long-term sucrose consumption increases a certain receptor (α4β2) and decreases another (α6β2) receptor in the key brain region associated with reward.

“The present study shows that systemic administration of varenicline produced a reduction of sucrose consumption, especially after long-term sucrose consumption,”​ the study’s authors said.

“Interestingly, varenicline did not affect sucrose consumption in the short-term suggesting that intermittent access to sucrose may contribute to neurological changes for which varenicline is effective.”

Binging on sugar has repeatedly been shown to elevate dopamine levels​ in the reward part of the brain, an observation also seen in drug abuse​.​ Chronic intermittent sugar intake also causes an increase in the expression of dopamine (D1) receptors and decrease in the expression of D2 receptors in the brain regions.​ Similar changes have also been noted in cocaine and morphine responses.


Source: PLOS one

Published online ahead of print, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150270

“Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Modulators Reduce Sugar Intake.”

Authors: Masroor Shariff, Maryka Quik, Joan Holgate, Michael Morgan, Omkar L. Patkar, Vincent Tam, Arnauld Belmer, Selena E. Bartlett

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Replacing One Harmful drug With Another

Posted by Lynn Allan Kelly,

This has been known for decades and is why so much sugar is processed into our food supply ... duh. Of course, now, the pharmaceutical industry wants its drug to be used, not as a cure, but as a replacement for that sugar so they can tap into all those billions of dollars in revenue all those sugar addicts spend. Sugar sickens and kills, pharmaceutical drugs sicken and kill ... choose your poison ... or ... don't use either?

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Incomplete study

Posted by Jack,

Making a comparison with drug addiction would also require that it is shown that similar effects are not seen with other substances (fat?) or activities (sports?) and that refraining from the substance has the same effects. When will those studies be published?

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