Sugar can be addictive, at least in rats

Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:43pm EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A study of rats offers scientific proof for what many dieters already know: Sugar can be addictive.

"Bingeing on sugar can act on the brain in ways very similar to a drug abuse," said Bart Hoebel of Princeton University in New Jersey, who presented his findings on Wednesday at a meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Scottsdale, Arizona.

He said bingeing on sugar water produced behavioral and even neurochemical changes in rats that resembled the changes produced when animals or people take substances of abuse.

"These animals show signs of withdrawal and even long-lasting aftereffects that might resemble craving," Hoebel told reporters in a telephone briefing.

In one experiment, lab rats were fed a breakfast of sugar water after a nighttime fast for a period of three weeks.

"What we discovered is this releases a surge of (the brain chemical) dopamine. It is in a part of the brain involved in motivation and reward, the nucleus accumbens," Hoebel said.

"It's been known for a long time that drugs of abuse release or increase the levels of dopamine in that part of the brain. Here sugar is doing something drugs of abuse are famous for doing," he said.

He said it does not appear to be the sugar per se, but the act of bingeing on sugar that has the effect.   Continued...

<p>A man repacks sugar in packets on sale for 6.70 pesos ($0.36) on a table at a public market in Taguig City Metro Manila August 27, 2008. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo</p>