We know sugar is bad for you but could it be as addictive as some of the more common banned substances? A systematic propaganda machine that began in the 1960s seems to indicate so. Set on course by the sugar industry to change the burgeoning (at the time) notion that excess sugar is deadly for the world, the program was recently published widely.

The story which was reported by The Guardian among other publications, talks about sugar industry-funded research that pointing the finger for coronary heart diseases at fat, diverting the blame away from sugar. Correspondence between a sugar trade group and researchers at Harvard University show that the group tried to shape public opinion towards sugar and away from fat. Among other things, it was discussed that “negative attitudes toward sugar” be addressed by the group, after a wave of scientists had begun exploring what the world would be like when consuming excess sugar.

The Sugar Conspiracy
This led to formation of “Project 226,” which paid Harvard researchers close to $50,000 for an article reviewing the literature the group had prepared. The article published in 1967 ‘concluded’ that reducing cholesterol and saturated fat was the only dietary change needed to thwart heart disease. Such articles shape the opinion of nutritionists and scientists who often check the source of the research before reading its contents. Getting the Harvard stamp was more than enough to change the course of the sugar industry and alter perception of what is nutrition. In response an employee of the sugar industry group was quoted as saying, “Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print.”

Just like a drug

Another recent study from Australia seems to suggest that there’s a reason why you aren’t able to resist a helping of sugar in each and every meal. It just could be addictive as cocaine or other such drugs. The research, a report on which was published in The Telegraph, comes from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) down under and talks about withdrawal symptoms from chronic sugar consumption, effects of which are similar to going ‘cold turkey’ in drug rehab.

Tricks your brain
It also observed that excessive consumption of sugar releases dopamine, or the happy hormone, much like cocaine, tobacco and morphine. The scientists suggest that medicines like varenicline – used to treat nicotine addiction – could be used to treat sugar addiction as well.

The researchers also suggested that consuming excess sugar can be linked to weight gain. This is because sugar seems to reduce dopamine levels in your brain, after a certain point, getting you to consume more and more to feel that same dopamine release. This behaviour is also similar to the usage of drugs, where the user is searching for that elusive ‘first high’ again.

Not just table sugar
It’s not just refined or table sugar that has this effect. Artificial sweeteners have a similar effect on your brain. A 2015 study further added credence to the addictive properties of sugar. Dr James DiNicolantonio published a review talking about dangers of sugar, which when introduced to rats addicted to cocaine, can be an adequate replacement for the addicts.

Contributes to Weight gain 
“Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain,”  said Professor Selena Bartlett, a neuroscientist from the university’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.

“It has also been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine and morphine. We have also found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation,” she added.

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