Sugar is a highly palatable food. However, its excessive consumption, can trigger neuroadaptations in the reward system that dissociate the eating behavior from caloric needs and leads to compulsive eating. Excessive sugar intake is in turn associated with adverse health conditions, including obesity, metabolic problems and inflammatory diseases. In addition, studies show the impact of sugar on the body, brain and behavior.
Hedonic response to sugar
While the hypothalamus regulates food intake in terms of energy needs, dopamine and reward circuits drive eating behavior. Other neurotransmitters, including serotonin, opioids and endocannabinoids confer the reward of food, in part by modulating its hedonic properties. The intake of palatable foods releases dopamine in the ventral and dorsal striated body and the release is proportional to the level of pleasure obtained when eating the food. Highly palatable foods, especially those high in sugar, can strongly trigger these rewards and hedonic systems, encouraging food intake beyond the necessary energy requirement.
Excessive consumption of glucose and fructose
The added fructose, coming from the industry, is especially harmful because it is not immediately available as an energy to the brain. Glucose, on the other, is a necessary energy source for it. When comparing them, the added fructose is associated with much more health risks than glucose. It can increase demand for food and lead to fat production and storage. It may also be related to neurodegenerative diseases, inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
The consumption of added sugar is associated with cognitive deficiencies, especially worsened hippocampus memory function. This relationship seems to be mediated by an increase in inflammation of the hippocampus, which is especially pronounced in the condition of high sugar content. In short, reducing added sugar can help promote healthy eating and maintain overall physical and behavioral integrity.
The role of sugary drinks in obesity and chronic diseases
Watch the video on Science Play with Roberta Carbonari:
Nutritional Strategies – Binge-eating
– Wang, Gene-Jack (2018). Impact of sugar on the body brain and behavior. Frontiers in Bioscience, 23(12), 2255–2266. Doi:10.2741/4704