Mind and Body
This Is How Sugar Affects the Brain, According to Neuroscience
Sugar, in its most basic form, is a natural and simple combination of elements. But when artificially added to food, which is often done, sugar can throw our bodies and brains for a loop.
To help understand how our brains react, resident neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Shannon Odell stuffed her face full of a dozen pounds of candy in order to thoughtfully how sugar affects your brain. She really is so selfless, right?
The most obvious effect sugar can have is directly correlated with the reward centers of your brain. Candy tastes good, so our brain gets flooded with dopamine when you eat, say, a lollipop. The crazy part is that our brains actually begin this release before we even eat the lollipop. Just looking at a bowl of candy makes your brain start to prime itself for this dopamine release. It’s like how your mouth waters just by thinking about food, except it’s your brain, and hopefully, there’s no water filling your skull.
Further, sugar consumption in adolescence can have serious effects on your dopamine releases later in life. That’s right. If you eat a ton of sugar as a kid, you’re less likely to crave it or get a huge reward when you eat it as an adult. This might seem like a good thing, but lack of motivation for reward is a hallmark of depression.
A big topic in the world of sugar is addiction. Can you actually be addicted to candy, or soda, or chocolate? Obviously, it isn’t as addictive as cocaine or heroin, right? Well, bad news. A study in rats showed that when given the choice between hard drugs and sugar, the rats consistently chose sugar, even among heroine-addicted rats, which, for the record, is a pretty good band name. But it truly illustrates the addictive nature of sugar. Overconsumption of sugar can also lead to cross-tolerance in other drugs. So, be careful when you’re slamming back your sixth Coke, or you might soon find yourself switching to the other kind. You know, with a lowercase “c.”
Like most things, moderation is key. Sugar is not inherently as bad as drugs or alcohol or any other form of a brain-altering substance. In fact, your brain needs forms of glucose to stay primed. Natural sugars, such as those in fruit and moderate amounts of processed sugar, will not make you depressed or hopelessly addicted to drugs, but you should be mindful of how you feel before and after you eat that chocolate bar.
As for Shannon, she’s still in a mild sugar coma from her trip to the candy store. Watch the latest episode of Your Brain on (Blank), and let us know on Facebook which topic you’d like us to cover next!