It can feel like we are often bombarded with information highlighting the negative link between sugar and health. We are told that sugar negatively impacts our mental well-being, by suppressing hormones that play a significant role in brain health. We are told that sugar has a detrimental effect on learning and memory, and that is has addictive properties, meaning that once you start on the sugar buzz, it can be hard to stop.
Recent research has even highlighted the significant link between sugar and cancer, indicating that the way in which cancer cells break down sugar is linked to the stimulation of tumour growth.
There is a lot of material to sift through when it comes to the impact that sugar has on our mental and physical health, most of it negative. But what does sugar actually do to our brains? What is the process that occurs, that makes sugar so addictive? And does sugar behave in a similar way to other substances, such as drugs, alcohol, and nicotine?
In the fascinating and informative video below, these questions are answered. Have a watch and learn about how sugar interacts with the reward systems in our brains, and how too much sugar can affect us in a similar way to other addictive and dangerous substances:
Sugar suppresses important brain hormones
Links between sugar and mental health problems may have a number of possible causes. Firstly, a diet high in sugar may have a negative effect on overall physical health, which can be a powerful determinant of mental well-being. Another theory suggests that the link between sugar and depression is because sugar suppresses the activity of BDNF in the brain.
This growth hormone plays an important role in brain health. Psychiatric researcher Malcolm Peet argues that this suggests a strong link between high sugar consumption and the risk of certain mental illnesses.
It makes it harder to learn and remember information
A 2012 UCLA study on rats suggests that eating large quantities of fructose (a type of sugar found in many manufactured food products) over a long period of time can alter the brain’s ability to learn and remember information. However, the same study discovered that adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet can help to minimise the damage caused by fructose.
It has addictive tendencies
According to neuroscientist Nicole Avena, sugar has the potential to activate a “rewards system” when we eat it. On tasting sugar, our tongue sends a signal to the brain which releases dopamine – a feel-good chemical. This encourages us to eat more and potentially creates a very addictive cycle. This might explain why turning down sugary snacks and treats can sometimes feel like it requires a lot more willpower.
It can be very hard to resist sugar, especially when we’re surrounded by leftover trick-or-treat supplies and festive flavoured hot chocolates. Sugar can, on occasion, be enjoyed in moderation. However, if you notice yourself consuming large quantities of sugar or small quantities on a very regular basis, try to remember the less obvious effects your sugar habit might be having on your health.