When there's a pile of holiday sweets in your office kitchen, it can sometimes feel like sugar is coaxing you to come to it. Now a Princeton University scientist suggests that siren's call may not be your imagination. According to new research released this week, sugar may wield addictive powers similar to those of drugs.
The studies so far have only been conducted on lab rats, but the results are pretty eye-opening. Over several years, Professor Bart Hoebel and other department of psychology researchers have observed in rats patterns of increased sugar intake, withdrawal, and relapse — all typical characteristics of addition. Rats who were deprived of sugar for periods of time seemed even more anxious to consume it when it was reintroduced. Says Hoebel, "In this case, abstinence makes the heart grow fonder." Here's more:
Hoebel has shown that rats eating large amounts of sugar when hungry, a phenomenon he describes as sugar-binging, undergo neurochemical changes in the brain that appear to mimic those produced by substances of abuse, including cocaine, morphine and nicotine. Sugar induces behavioral changes, too. "In certain models, sugar-binging causes long-lasting effects in the brain and increases the inclination to take other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol," Hoebel said.
Wow, that's pretty shocking stuff, don't you think? Hoebel hopes his research could someday help treat eating disorders, but already it makes me think differently about the way we consume sugar. I have often noticed that the more sugar I eat, the more I crave it; how about you?