CAYENNE, FRENCH GUIANA- Anyone who has ever drank soda or eaten any baked-good can identify with the feeling that comes before and after consuming something sweet. Beforehand, you feel as if you just “have” to have it. And once you have done so, there is that temporary feeling of fulfillment that is only offset by the fact that your body tells you, later on, that it wants more. So, what if those feelings can be attributed to more than mere cravings?
A 2013 study by the National Institute of Health explored the relationship between sugar and commonly known drugs such as cocaine and hyper-palatable foods (tasty food on crack). The aim of the study was to review the viability of sugar being a drug as more legislation develops in order to tax sugar or to overall ban it.
On a neurological level, the study found that consuming sugar mimics the reward’s process that is seen when cocaine is consumed; however, on a more natural level. The scientist who conducted the study cited choice experiments, which indicated that: when rats were given the choice to self-administer cocaine or sucrose, the rats developed “a strong and persistent preference for sucrose.” And moreover, the study cites other scientific works which provide evidence supporting the relationship between sugar withdrawal and heroin withdrawal.
A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Bordeaux concluded that the neurological rewards elicited when sugar is consumed can surpass those of cocaine. And, a 2013 Connecticut College study concluded that Oreos (a food high in sugar) can be compared to drugs of abuse in lab rats. It might seem simplistic to make large conclusions about sugar being a drug when tested in rats. However, there is a reason why scientist use rats.
Rats are often chosen in lab experiments due to their small size and short lifespan. But more importantly, they are chose due to their biological and behavioral similarities to human beings. When a rat is given a choice between cocaine and sucrose and they opt for sucrose that should raise red flags in the minds of many. The National Institute of Health study concludes that there is a relationship between brain activities when drugs are consumed in comparison to hyper-palatable foods. Nevertheless, they do say that much more research has to be done in order to back this conclusion on an empirical level.
At the end of the day, even if future results end up not supporting the belief that sugar is a drug, no one can deny the correlation between the foods in our global consumption economy that are often always sweet and the rise of Type II diabetes, obesity, and other tangent illnesses.