How sugar affects the brain – Nicole Avena

How sugar affects the brain – Nicole Avena

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Picture warm, gooey cookies, crunchy candies, velvety cakes, waffle cones piled high with ice cream. Is your mouth watering? Are you craving dessert? Why? What happens in the brain
that makes sugary foods so hard to resist? Sugar is a general term
used to describe a class of molecules called carbohydrates, and it’s found in a wide variety
of food and drink. Just check the labels
on sweet products you buy. Glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, dextrose, and starch are all forms of sugar. So are high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, raw sugar, and honey. And sugar isn’t just
in candies and desserts, it’s also added to tomato sauce, yogurt, dried fruit,
flavored waters, or granola bars. Since sugar is everywhere,
it’s important to understand how it affects the brain. What happens when sugar hits your tongue? And does eating a little bit of sugar
make you crave more? You take a bite of cereal. The sugars it contains activate
the sweet-taste receptors, part of the taste buds on the tongue. These receptors send a signal
up to the brain stem, and from there, it forks off
into many areas of the forebrain, one of which is the cerebral cortex. Different sections of the cerebral cortex
process different tastes: bitter, salty, umami, and, in our case, sweet. From here, the signal activates
the brain’s reward system. This reward system is a series
of electrical and chemical pathways across several different
regions of the brain. It’s a complicated network, but it helps answer a single,
subconscious question: should I do that again? That warm, fuzzy feeling you get
when you taste Grandma’s chocolate cake? That’s your reward system saying, “Mmm, yes!” And it’s not just activated by food. Socializing, sexual behavior, and drugs are just a few examples
of things and experiences that also activate the reward system. But overactivating this reward system
kickstarts a series of unfortunate events: loss of control, craving,
and increased tolerance to sugar. Let’s get back to our bite of cereal. It travels down into your stomach
and eventually into your gut. And guess what? There are sugar receptors here, too. They are not taste buds,
but they do send signals telling your brain that you’re full or that your body should
produce more insulin to deal with the extra sugar
you’re eating. The major currency
of our reward system is dopamine, an important chemical or neurotransmitter. There are many dopamine
receptors in the forebrain, but they’re not evenly distributed. Certain areas contain dense
clusters of receptors, and these dopamine hot spots
are a part of our reward system. Drugs like alcohol, nicotine, or heroin send dopamine into overdrive, leading some people
to constantly seek that high, in other words, to be addicted. Sugar also causes dopamine to be released,
though not as violently as drugs. And sugar is rare
among dopamine-inducing foods. Broccoli, for example, has no effect, which probably explains why it’s so hard to get
kids to eat their veggies. Speaking of healthy foods, let’s say you’re hungry
and decide to eat a balanced meal. You do, and dopamine levels spike
in the reward system hot spots. But if you eat that same dish
many days in a row, dopamine levels will spike less and less,
eventually leveling out. That’s because when it comes to food, the brain evolved to pay special attention
to new or different tastes. Why? Two reasons: first, to detect food that’s gone bad. And second, because the more variety
we have in our diet, the more likely we are
to get all the nutrients we need. To keep that variety up, we need to be able
to recognize a new food, and more importantly, we need
to want to keep eating new foods. And that’s why the dopamine levels off
when a food becomes boring. Now, back to that meal. What happens if in place
of the healthy, balanced dish, you eat sugar-rich food instead? If you rarely eat sugar
or don’t eat much at a time, the effect is similar
to that of the balanced meal. But if you eat too much,
the dopamine response does not level out. In other words, eating lots of sugar
will continue to feel rewarding. In this way, sugar behaves
a little bit like a drug. It’s one reason people seem
to be hooked on sugary foods. So, think back to all those
different kinds of sugar. Each one is unique,
but every time any sugar is consumed, it kickstarts a domino effect in the brain
that sparks a rewarding feeling. Too much, too often,
and things can go into overdrive. So, yes, overconsumption of sugar
can have addictive effects on the brain, but a wedge of cake once
in a while won’t hurt you.

42 thoughts on “How sugar affects the brain – Nicole Avena”

  1. It's hard to believe that the West especially the Americans have such a poor understanding of the very basic thing in life…
    They run after everything artificial.

  2. honestly i donโ€™t crave any sugary foods, it disgusts me, but i once got benzos for longer than i should have and ever since i crave opioids (kratom, imodium, lorazepam etc.)

  3. Eating lots of sugary foods give us wrinkles and make us old.

    I guess this is more than enough motivation for me to ditch chocolate biscuits and cold coffee cause my crush doesn't even look at me. ๐Ÿ˜‘๐Ÿ˜ฉ

  4. Sugar has a very important place in our lives.Everyone tries to stop using it.but nobody thinks like "if i stop it,can i get used to tasteless stuff?"

  5. ๋ฌผ์งˆ๋ฐ๊ฒฝํ—˜ ๋Œ€๋‡Œํ”ผ์งˆ ๋ณด์ƒ์‹œ์Šคํ…œ ๋ฐ˜๋ณต์œ ๋„
    ๋‚ด์žฅ์† ๋‹น๋ถ„ ์ˆ˜์šฉ์ฒด ๋„ํŒŒ๋ฏผ ๋„ํŒŒ๋ฏผ ์ˆ˜์šฉ์ฒด๊ฐ€ ๋ชฐ๋ ค์žˆ๋Š”๋ถ€๋ถ„ ๋ณด์ƒํšŒ๋กœ ์•ฝ๋ฌผ ๋„ํŒŒ๋ฏผ๊ณ ๋†๋„์œ ์ง€ ์ค‘๋…
    ๋ธŒ๋กœ์ฝœ๋ฆฌ ๋„ํŒŒ๋ฏผx
    ๋™์ผ๋ฐ˜๋ณต ๋„ํŒŒ๋ฏผ์ˆ˜์น˜ ๋‚ฎ์•„์ ธ ์ƒˆ์Œ์‹์˜์–‘์†Œ
    ๊ณ ๋‹น๋ถ„ ๋ณด์ƒ๋Š๋‚Œ์œ ์ง€ ๊ณ ๋„ํŒŒ๋ฏผ ์ค‘๋…

  6. Basically what they say is sugar is an addictive drug, but it won't hurt you. I wonder if they got paid for saying that.

  7. I gave up sugar for 6 months. Relapsed at Christmas dinner. Peach pie. Been back on the stuff ever since.

  8. I do not know how sugar affects my Brain.
    But I do know how Insulin affects my Brain.
    I am a Diabetic Type 1 on Insulin.

  9. Sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugars sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar

  10. ุฌุฐุน ุงู„ุฏู…ุงุบ ู…ุณุคูˆู„ ุนู† ุงู„ูˆุนูŠ ุŸ

  11. I don't understand… If humans evolved their tastebuds in order to lessen their dopamine levels for repetitive meals, then what was the evolutionary advantage of sugar not having the same effect?

  12. This is psedoscience. Sugar (healthy carbohydrates) are good for you and essential in providing energy for the body and for memory. Not to mention digestion, hydration… I could go on. Notice how they conflate healthy carbs like honey or fruit with high fructose corn syrup. I'll be taking a look at their sponsors.

  13. Addiction is a part of psychology. Anything you want that is not an absolute need from fight or flight responses should be considered a part of the dopamine reward system. Certain rewards require more work to get the 'high'; you can consider love like the grandest drug of all, because fundamentally, it operates no differently. So choose your poison–every good feeling comes from somewhere unpleasant–the only significance is how much pain we end up with over-all.

  14. I don't seem to get any dopamine high when I eat sugar. I do know that the brain uses hydrocarbons in it's cells for metabolism, that we must have hydrocarbons and when insulin pushes them into cells and the brain has none we go unconscious. We were taught that sugar is just empty calories or an energy source that has no vitamins therefore don't eat too much sugar.

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