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How Sugar Changes Your Brain Chemistry

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

Story at-a-glance -

  • Excessive sugar consumption underpins the obesity epidemic by eliciting addiction-like cravings reminiscent of other drugs of abuse
  • Research looking at the brains of pigs given access to sugar water for one hour per day for 12 days showed sugar reduced the availability of opioid and dopamine receptors, which is indicative of opioid and dopamine release
  • Reduced receptor availability is a sign of overstimulation, as when your brain gets overstimulated, it downregulates the receptors in order to protect your brain from damage. The drawback of this protective mechanism is that you now need a higher dose of the substance to get the same pleasure response, and this is a key mechanism by which addiction develops
  • Daily sugar consumption also impairs spatial memory and inhibits neurogenesis in the hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory processes
  • High-sugar diets alter inhibitory neurons in the prefrontal cortex, where decision-making and impulse control are centered. Aside from impaired impulse control and the inability to delay gratification, this alteration may also increase the risk of mental health problems in children and adolescents

If you're like most people, chances are you're consuming unhealthy amounts of sugar on a regular basis. Even if you're not big on candy, most processed foods will provide you with an excessive amount of added sugars.

As noted in the BBC One report "The Truth About Sugar," a serving of Pad Thai noodles contains 9.5 teaspoons of sugar and a package of sweet and sour chicken with rice contains 12.5 teaspoons, which is more than a can of soda.


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