Bingeing on candy and smoking have a surprising thing in common — they are both extremely addictive, according to researchers in Australia.
Excess sugar consumption is a key factor in rising worldwide obesity rates, and scientists at Queensland University of Technology in Australia have found that drugs used to treat nicotine addiction can be used to treat sugar addiction in animals, according to research published in two scientific journals.
“The latest World Health Organisztion figures tell us 1.9 billion people worldwide are overweight, with 600 million considered obese,” Neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation said. “Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain. It has also been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine and morphine.”
Bartlett said that long-term consumption of sugar produces lower dopamine levels over time, which means more has to be consumed to satisfy the craving.
“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 said.
FDA approved drug varenicline can combat sugar cravings the same way it fights nicotine cravings in smokers.
In another surprising find, sugar replacement sweeteners, including saccharin, have the same addictive effects as real sugar.
“Like other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from chronic sucrose exposure can result in an imbalance in dopamine levels and be as difficult as going ‘cold turkey’ from them,” Bartlett told the Daily. “Further studies are required but our results do suggest that current FDA-approved [nicotine] drugs may represent a novel new treatment strategy to tackle the obesity epidemic.”