The addiction to sugar is the compulsive and uncontrollable use of this substance, which begins to be consumed each time in a more intense and irrational way.
Addiction is defined as the compulsive and uncontrollable use or consumption of a certain substance. This use appears in most daily activities and increasingly intensified consumption cycles.
Research on sugar addiction has detected the presence of three main stages in the development of addiction. These are binge eating, withdrawal syndrome and the desire to consume.
Sugar is a substance that is used as a food element in multiple regions of the world. However, that this element meets food factors does not mean that it can not be harmful to the body.
In fact, the excessive consumption of multiple foods can have negative consequences for the physical functioning of the organism.
Many studies have shown that sugar is a substance that acts can modify both physical functioning and mental functioning.
In this sense, recently there have been investigations that postulate that sugar could generate addiction, there are many people who misuse this substance and require regular consumption of sugar on a daily basis.
Main elements of sugar addiction
The first stage of this addiction involves the consumption of a large amount of the substance at a certain time. This behavior indicates that the substance has become an element of use to an element of abuse.
Binge eating is characterized by the presence of a progressive increase in the substance used. That is to say, sugar begins to be used more and more intensively and routinely.
Likewise, at this stage, the sensitization of several behavioral elements may appear. The individual begins to associate different behaviors or situations with the consumption of sugar.
On the other hand, in animal models it has been observed that during the first binge stage there is a marked hypermotricity, which increases as the addiction also increases.
This phenomenon could easily be compared with the changes experienced by a drug addict, which increases their motor activity aimed at the search and preparation of drug consumption.
The second stage of the sugar addiction would be defined by a series of signs and symptoms that appear when the subject does not consume the substance.
These manifestations indicate that the person has begun to require the consumption of sugar to function normally. That is, he suffers from an alteration of his physical and / or psychological functioning when the sugar is not inside the organism.
The signs of withdrawal syndrome also signal the onset of dependence. The person begins to be dependent on sugar for the generation of their own well-being.
Imperative desire to consume
The urge to consume, also known as “craving” refers to a follow-up of sensations and emotions that originate the appearance of internal motivations for consumption.
These sensations are linked to the dependence on the substance. The person experiences desire to consume sugar since it requires it to receive positive stimuli and gratifying sensations.
Likewise, craving also motivates behaviors aimed at the search for the substance. As well as impulsive and excessive consumption of sugar.
Brain mechanisms related to sugar addiction
The brain regions involved with addiction processes and the functioning of substances that cause drug dependence are elements that are well studied today.
Most addictive drugs are characterized by directly affecting the brain. This factor causes a series of psychological effects on the person and develops addiction to the substance.
For example, drugs such as alcohol, cocaine or tobacco are substances that are once found in the blood, easily accessed in the brain regions.
Each psychoactive substance makes certain changes in brain functioning, likewise, acts in different neuronal regions.
However, any addictive drug is characterized by modifying a series of brain mechanisms that are related to the reward system.
The addictive action of sugar, on the other hand, is slightly different. That is, it does not act directly on the brain, but rather it causes a series of changes in the organism that end up affecting psychological functioning.
In this sense, in order to properly understand how sugar can generate an addiction similar to that caused by other types of drugs, it is necessary to focus on two main aspects: the cerebral mechanisms of addiction and the cholinergic mechanisms of satiety.
Brain mechanisms of addiction
For a substance, whatever it may be, can cause addiction in a person, it is necessary that this makes a series of changes in brain functioning.
Specifically, the substance must act in the reward system of the brain. This system is mainly regulated by dopamine, being the mechanism that allows people to experience sensations of pleasure or gratification.
The reward system of the brain is not activated only with the consumption of substances. This mechanism is activated whenever the person receives some stimulus that gives him pleasure.
For example, when an individual performs his favorite activity, eats when he is very hungry, drinks when he is very thirsty or receives very good news, the reward system is activated, which allows the experimentation of sensations and emotions of pleasure.
When the reward system of the brain is activated, a greater release of the dopamine neurotransmitter occurs . The greater presence of this substance in said brain regions immediately produces gratifying sensations.
The drugs that cause addiction are characterized by producing a broad release of dopamine in the reward system of the brain. In this sense, when a drug that releases dopamine is consumed, pleasure is experienced and, therefore, desire to consume the substances and addiction.
So, in order for the sugar to cause addiction, it is necessary for it to act on the reward system of the brain and cause an increase in the release of dopamine.
Cholinergic mechanisms of satiety
As mentioned, not only substances that act directly in the reward system can cause an increase in dopamine release.
In fact, there are many factors that can participate in the functioning of the reward system of the brain, among which are the processes related to intake and satiety.
In the first place, this fact is contextualized through the effects originated by the intake.
For example, when a person is hungry and eats, he experiences high feelings of gratification. However, if the same person ingests food when fully sated , he will rarely experience any pleasure with food.
Thus, it becomes clear that satiety has a remarkable ability to affect, in some way, the performance of reward of the brain.
Several investigations have shown that this process is carried out through cholinergic mechanisms. That is to say, dopamine is not carried out through a direct alteration, but through substances that antagonize the function of dopamine.
In other words, satiety modulates the activation of the reward system through an inverse process. When the satiety appears, it transmits a series of substances that inhibit the production of dopamine, however, when it is not present, these substances are not transmitted and the production of dopamine increases.
In this sense, other experiments have shown that the injection of peptides such as cholecystokinin induce satiety states in hungry rats and therefore a reduction in dopamine production and sensations of pleasure.
How does sugar produce addiction?
Research on the addictive effects of sugar has shown that this substance does not directly affect psychological functioning.
That is, when sugar is consumed, its substances do not directly access the brain regions.
In this way, the sugar does not produce a direct modification of the functioning of the reward system nor does it motivate a greater release of dopamine.
Attending to the mechanisms of the addiction, it would be expected that the sugar did not turn out to be an addictive substance, since it does not directly affect the cerebral mechanisms related to the addiction.
But this is not entirely true. As mentioned earlier, there are many factors that can affect the reward system of the brain in one way or another.
The processes originated through the feeding and sensations of satiety seem to have a direct effect on the cerebral mechanisms.
In this sense, the addiction of sugar has been investigated. Indirect processes of this substance seem to explain its addictive potential.
Role of glucose
The consumption of sugar makes a high increase in the production of glucose. This substance is highly important for the nutrition and development of the organism.
Glucose is a substance that does not access the brain regions, so it is not able to make any change in the functioning of the brain directly.
However, it is capable of producing changes in brain function through indirect mechanisms.
This process is carried out through another substance known as glucokinase, which is found in the hypothalamus of the brain.
Glucokinase regulates various functions, among which is the ingestion of food. Specifically, the higher amounts of glucokinase in the brain, the greater feelings of desire to eat the person experiences.
Role of dopamine
As mentioned in the previous section, the consumption of sugar can indirectly affect the functioning of the brain through the interaction between glucose and glucokinase.
More specifically, recent research has described how sugar consumption produces, through this mechanism, an increase in dopamine production.
This action that causes sugar through the glucose it produces is explained from an evolutionary point of view of humans and animals.
For people to develop their body properly, they need to eat foods that can generate glucose in abundance.
In this sense, the human brain detects the intake of these substances as rewarding in order to motivate the search and intake of this type of food.
However, sugar, due to its caloric contribution, performs a very high stimulation of the production of dopamine. Thus, its consumption produces greater sensations of gratification and, therefore, is more susceptible to generate addiction.
It is concluded that addiction to sugar is a complex and difficult process to analyze. The addictive mechanism of this substance is less clear than that of other, more well-identified drugs, a fact that makes its study difficult.
Likewise, the absence of highly negative effects produced by the consumption of sugar, causes that the investigation about the addiction on this substance arouses less interest.
In fact, most of the data presented in this review refers to research carried out with primates and rodents, since there are no studies carried out with humans.
This fact is an important factor that can weaken the reliability of the data obtained to this day.
In this sense, considering that both the stages that the sugar addiction generates and the cerebral mechanisms that intervene in the procedure have shown to be consistent in the different studies, the existence of addiction to sugar is postulated as a relatively well contrasted hypothesis.
However, more research is required to extrapolate the data and knowledge collected in animals to humans.