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It's common knowledge that sugary foods aren't exactly good for us, but that doesn't stop countless people from overeating them. Sweet tooth would like to call this a sugar addiction, and new research results published in Scientific Reports could confirm this idea.
Previous studies on the idea that sugar is pretty much a drug have had mixed results, and some experts have insisted that food can't really be addictive. However, this new study, which was carried out on pigs, found that sugar can change the brain systems affected by addictive substances. Basically, we learn to repeat any behavior that made us feel good when the brain is overwhelmed with pleasure from something addictive. And when scientists gave the pigs access to a sugar solution for one hour on twelve consecutive days, they found that their brain's reward systems changed instantly.
"After just 12 days of sugar intake, we saw significant changes in the brain's dopamine and opioid systems," said lead study author Michael Winterdahl, associate professor at the Clinical Medicine Clinic at Aarhus University in Denmark. "In fact, the opioid system, which is the part of brain chemistry that is associated with wellbeing and pleasure, was activated after the first dose."
The study was carried out on pigs, as previous studies were based on rats and pigs have a more complex brain than rodents. Scientists used PET scans to study the effects of sugar intake on their brains. Why not people, you ask? Well, too many things trigger our brain's reward systems.
"They depend on what we eat, whether we play on our cell phones or enter into a new romantic relationship in the middle of the study, where the data may be very different," said Winterdahl. He had actually set out to debunk the idea of sugar addiction, and he was surprised at the results. But it seems there is something in the general belief that sugar is addictive.
"We are all looking for the rush of dopamine," he said, "and if something gives us a better or bigger kick, that's what we choose."[RELATED1]